Being a black athlete in the 20th century wasn’t as glamorous as it is now. In addition to reduced opportunities and pay, black athletes often faced accusations of being unfairly athletic in comparison to white ones. The same eugenicists who claimed white people were intellectually superior to everyone else begrudgingly theorized that black people’s physical powers were unfair in games of sport. I can only imagine what those same racists would think about our modern day athletic heroes like LeBron James and Michael Jordan. As you’ll find out in the short video below, while black athletes of today experience less discrimination and restrictions (and they DEFINITELY get paid enough now), they are still expected to NOT use their privilege to speak up for their own communities.

When black athletes are quietly earning money and influence, they are left alone by white society. But when they earn money and decide to exert some of their influence to better their communities, they become “ungrateful”. The word “ungrateful” is rooted in white America’s desire to keep the majority of the black race as subservients. When a black person becomes a famed athlete (and therefore gains access to money not available to scores of other black people) they are expected to be grateful for the opportunity to leave racial and economic oppression behind. They are NOT, however, expected to talk about racial and economic oppression.

References

THE WAR ON JACK JOHNSON: BOXING’S FIRST BLACK HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION VERSUS THE WORLD  (Jack Slack)

The Socio-Political Context of Sports in America (Renford Reese)

The Uneasy History of Integrated Sports in America  (Matthew Wills)