Reflecting on Black Representation in Sport – Black History Month

Written by: Jagat

Edited by: Lucas

Visual by: Andie

Black History Month is a time of expressing gratitude and appreciation for black excellence, culture, and people. Black history is complex and diverse, and one fundamental aspect is representation within athletics. Let’s look back on some of the most influential black people and movements present within American sports.

Arthur Ashe’s Activism (1960s-1993)

Arthur Ashe is recognized as a pioneer of African American success in tennis. He won 3 grand slam titles, the most prestigious accomplishment in tennis, in an era dominated by Europeans and his white compatriots. However, his role as an eloquent activist for social and economic justice is what set him aside as an icon of the sport. Famously, he quoted – “From what we get, we can make a living. What we give, however, makes a life” – a mantra that he held true to. Most notably, Ashe rallied against the Apartheid, which at the time was legislature that was destroying the unity of South Africa, and HIV/AIDS, a disease that he came to contract amid his burgeoning tennis career. Though he eventually died of related complications, he did not go out without fighting tirelessly for AIDS research through his organization, The Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS.

Kneeling during the National Anthem

On September 1 2016, Colin Kapernick, an American football player, caused social media to erupt after kneeling with a teammate during the national anthem in a pre-game ceremony. When asked after a game about why he did it, he conveyed a powerful statement, saying “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” This act of kneeling for the national anthem was extremely controversial, and while done before, was the first that sparked this prevalent of a movement within North American sport. Issues of police brutality and gun violence against black individuals only repeat itself, and as long as these social dilemmas continue to plague the country, athletes will continue to express their defiance of patriotism.

Black Athletes Supporting BLM

In the past decade, BLM has evolved into a gargantuan fight for justice for black individuals unjustifiably killed by law enforcement. Social media has been the primary medium for this movement to develop and spread, however, oftentimes overlooked is the influential roles of sports leagues to encourage support on an international scale. Especially active in this regard is the NBA, who have actively supported players’ decisions to voice their opinions through custom jersey names such as “Say Her Name,” referring to Breonna Taylor, a victim of police brutality. Additionally, the NBA distributed clothing to players featuring “Black Lives Matter” and popular slogans such as “No Peace No Justice.” 

Black athletes in sports were once condemned, and through activism by players and fans alike, have become an integral part of athletics, using their platforms to encourage societal change and action. The unique culture of people with African heritage has soared through sports, and we cannot imagine a world without it.