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February Celebrates Black History

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US athlete Wilma Rudolph shows the gold medal she won at the Women's 100 meters Summer Olympic Games sprint event on September 2, 1960 in Rome, Italy. (AP Photo)

February has been called many names over the years but today it is referred to as Black History Month or National African American History Month. The event itself inspires schools, nations, and communities to host events in celebration of the achievements of black Americans and other people of color and African descent.

From the perspective of sport we have many contributions from black Americans, including notable athletes such as Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier when he became the first black athlete to play Major League Baseball in the 20th century. He signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, and was named Rookie of the Year that year, National League MVP in 1949 and a World Series champ in 1955.

Jesse Owens was an American track-and-field athlete who won four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. His long jump world record stood for 25 years.

In 1960 Wilma Rudolph became the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field at a single Olympics.

Alice Coachman (1923-) was the first African American woman to win an Olympic gold medal. Coachman won the high jump at the 1948 London Olympics. Photo: History.com

Alice Coachman, an American track-and-field athlete, made history at the 1948 Olympic Games, becoming the first black woman to win an Olympic medal.

Althea Gibson was the first African-American tennis player to compete at the U.S. National Championships in 1950, and the first black female or male player to compete at Wimbledon in 1951. She also broke racial barriers in professional golf. The list goes on and on.

The aforementioned is the pretext to the following, which the author finds to be so eloquently stated in response to a question posed to him by a reporter. The reporter asked San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich what black history month means to him and his response is spot on:

“Well, it’s a remembrance, and a bit of a celebration in some ways. It sounds odd because we’re not there yet, but it’s always important to remember what has passed and what is being experienced now by the black population. It’s a celebration of some of the good things that have happened, and a reminder that there’s a lot more work to do.

“But more than anything, I think if people take the time to think about it, I think it is our national sin. It always intrigues me when people come out with, ‘I’m tired of talking about that or do we have to talk about race again?’ And the answer is you’re damned right we do. Because it’s always there, and it’s systemic in the sense that when you talk about opportunity it’s not about ‘Well, if you lace up your shoes and you work hard, then you can have the American dream.’ That’s a bunch of hogwash. If you were born white, you automatically have a monstrous advantage educationally, economically, culturally in this society and all the systemic roadblocks that exist, whether it’s in a judicial sense, a neighborhood sense with laws, zoning, education, we have huge problems in that regard that are very complicated, but take leadership, time, and real concern to try to solve. It’s a tough one because people don’t really want to face it. And it’s in our national discourse.

“We have a president of the United States who spent four or five years disparaging and trying to illegitimatize our president. And we know that was a big fake. But still, [he] felt for some reason it had to be done. I can still remember a paraphrase close to a quote “investigators were sent to Hawaii and you cannot believe what they found.” Well, that was a lie. So if it’s being discussed and perpetrated at that level, you’ve got a national problem. I think that’s enough.” http://www.espn.com/

Thank you coach for speaking out and offering an insightful response that was honest with respect to the question asked.

By Fred J. Cromartie, Ed.D.

Dr. Fred J. Cromartie is the Director of Doctoral Studies at the United States Sports Academy, and can be reached at cromarti@ussa.edu.

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