The Civil Rights Legacy Of The Black Athlete By Mark Hollis

February celebrates the many contributions made by African Americans throughout the course of history in America. These noteworthy individuals have taken a stance against the injustices associated with racism and bigotry. Historically, some of the more celebrated voices have been our greatest athletes like Muhammad Ali, Althea Gibson, Jackie Robinson, Alice Coachman, Art Powell, and Arthur Ashe. These brave men and women, along with so many others, broke down barriers and utilized their celebrity to create platforms to voice their concerns relating to the inner city and black youth.

I remember when Muhammad Ali was drafted and refused to be inducted into the armed services. What resulted was a movement of solidarity amongst the black athletes supporting Muhammad’s convictions. A press conference, facilitated by Jim Brown, with attendee’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Bobby Mitchell, Curtis McClinton, was a must-see presentation. As a young man, I was inspired by their unity. That they were openly able to address their concerns associated with Ali in one voice was enlightening. Another memorable moment was during the 1968 Olympic Games when Tommie Smith and John Carlos defiantly raised a clenched fist during the playing of the National Anthem as a protest against human rights atrocities of that era. Again, they utilized their platform to bring awareness to what was being experienced in inner-city communities.

So, when Colin Kaepernick chose to take a knee during the playing of the National Anthem in protest against police brutality, the message was clear that the struggle continues. The solidarity witnessed amongst the sports community was encouraging. Some of the NFL owners threatened to sever ties with those players who joined Colin in taking a knee. Other owners showed support by joining their players on the field and locking arms. Regardless, the efforts created a dialogue that continues today. Colin Kaepernick sacrificed his career and chose to stand for something just as so many of his predecessors did years prior.

What’s encouraging is that there is solidarity amongst the sports communities that exist. What’s discouraging is that the one voice generated by these athletes still needs to be heard. Issues relating to discrimination and racial bias still exist and the unfortunate reality is the legacy of those trailblazers continues. A good friend of mine once said,

“As an athlete you have a voice, use it well.”