African Americans in Professional Sports.

Hello and welcome to my blog. I will be looking at how African Americans came to dominate the modern American sports market and how even today when they prove to be the most lucrative and dominate competitors they still seem to be treated different and many times worse than their lighter skinned counterparts.

A disclaimer for the blog is that I do not know much about American Sports, I’m German and was raised in India so the sports i know best are football (soccer) and cricket.


Head Coaches in the NFL

Mike Tomlin, head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers

The NFL is the United States, premier football league. Numbers show that in the NFL, about 70% of active players are African Americans. It is clear then to see that the league is dominated by African Americans on the field by players, however if we take a closer look at the numbers for the coaches it is quickly visible that the diversity does not translate to all jobs in the NFL. In particular when looking at the job of head coach and high-ranking positions in the team as an executive it is clear to see that the minority is not nearly as well represented as the players are.

            The reasons for this are multiple, firstly by pure numbers it is expected that as a smaller population group that Blacks and Hispanics will not have as many representatives. This in my opinion is silly as that obviously doesn’t seem to stop the number of athletes from growing. However even when this is taken into consideration the numbers are still way off. Of the 32 teams only 4 of them have a head coach that is a minority, two Black and one Hispanic.

            The NFL has acknowledged the lack of diversity in its higher post and in 2003 the Rooney Rule came into effect. The rule states that each organization looking to hire a new coach they must interview at least one minority candidate. However, in practice that is not always realized. When the raiders hired Jon Gruden, it was not known whether they conducted a good faith interview with a minority candidate. I would love to add on to this by saying that the NFL is tackling this issue head on. However apart from the Rooney Rule which when it first appeared held so much promise there seems to be nothing in the pipelines over at the NBA regrading this situation.

Let us then look at why this is a problem to begin with. As stated before roughly 70% of active players are African Americans, this compared to the small percentage of head coaches leaves me wondering how the players and coaches get along. That is to say that when it comes to certain things that tranced football such as the protests of police brutality and racial inequality can the head coaches and the heads of these organization who so often are white sympathize with their players. I believe they can be understanding and compassionate but to truly understand how most of their players are feeling doesn’t seem feasible. This is because they haven’t lived the lives the players have and therefore haven’t had to deal with the casual racism that black Americans are exposed to on almost a daily basis. I relate this to basically any reading we have done so far in this semester. It is a common occurrence for people to not fully understand the plight of the back people in America as they do not live it themselves.

To fix this problem will not be an easy task. I think that the best way to tackle it is to face it head on and to establish organization within the NFL dedicated to diversifying all positions. That is not to say that NFL teams should just start hiring minority coaches to look good but to give minority coaches a chance which doesn’t seem to have been the case up until this point. The idea of a kind of union seems to be interesting as well as a being united against this problem will probably help everyone. Then it would make sense for everyone in the NFL who is a minority to band together and have their voices heard. I relate this to the readings on many of the earlier black scholars such as Walker in the sense that the idea of coming together in numbers will give strength to the people.

African Americans are without a doubt a bedrock of the professional sports industry, players like Odell Beckham Jr. and Cam Newton become superstars and become giants in the society, it is about time that the all important jobs in the back rooms, away from the limelight also start getting more diverse, it is often these positions that get overlooked but really are some of the most important.

Visiting the White House

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In the United States there is a tradition among sports team that win national championships. Weather a college team or a professional team they are invited to the white house to meet the president of the United States. It is looked at as an honour and a form of high praise to the athletes. However recently there has been an increase in the number of athletes who decide not to go, in this blog post ill explore why that is and what it does to the dynamic of a team.

            I found out about this situation while looking for articles to write about and came across one talking about the situation going on with the Boston Red Sox, the current champions of the Major League Baseball association. As mentioned above it is costume to visit the president after winning the championship, however sports teams visiting the White house dates back 1865 when soldiers of the Union played a game of baseball at the White House to symbolise the unity that sports brings and send a message of togetherness to a nation ravaged by the Civil War. However, Andrew Johnson, president at the time had this to say about togetherness, “This is a country for white men, and by God, so long as I am president, it shall be a government for white men.” I bring this up as did the article because it is ironic how in todays time this quote although not fully true sums up the idea of a minority feeling excluded from the government in the sense that their wishes and needs are not being met by the government. The notion of declining such an invite reminds me of what Friere had to say about Liberation, “Not adopting the ideologies and practices of the oppressor”, breaking from tradition of the historically oppressive institution that is the government can be seen as an act of liberation on the part of the athletes.  

            Skipping the invite to the White House is nothing new, the 2017 NBA champions, the Golden State Warriors were disinvited from the White House by Donald Trump after some of the players stated that they would not be attending the meeting. Even under the Obama administration athletes declined the visit, examples for this include a speech he had made about planned parenthood which didn’t agree with a catholic sportsman. However, these incidents are about athletes’ personal stances on topics rather than the fact that the sitting president seems to personally offend many of the athletes who refuse to attend. For example, a different minority offended by his rhetoric were the Latinos and who he has openly offended by openly spewing bigoted words about them. This does not end with them as the divide seems to grow bigger day by day and minorities in general seem to be choosing not to attend such events at all anymore. To say they stand together in solidarity is fair. This idea relates back again to Friere who talked about the idea of autonomy as the idea of “moral independence”, independence to choose weather or not they attend such events. As well as the idea of “defining one’s self, independently of any outside influences.” They are thinking for themselves and although others have different ideas, they still express theirs independently.   

            My final thought after reading the article and writing this blog post was what this sort of divide will do to the team chemistry of the respective teams. Although many players do not attend there are still some who do. Everyone has their own ideas and opinions can do whatever they want. However, one still had to wonder weather eventually these clashes of ideas and thoughts may enter the dressing room and cause tension there which my lead to bad showings on the field or court. It is interesting to see the deep effect that the divisive politics of today are having on sports showing that it really does reach all areas of life and society.

The Greatest of All Time

Muhammed Ali is a name known worldwide. Even I, a boy growing up in India had heard is name before I ever stepped foot in the United States. The former world champion boxer who many consider, me included to be the greatest boxer that ever lived was a giant of the sport but so much more. Outside of the ring Muhmad Ali, born Cassius Clay was a trailblazer for black athletes as an outspoken man not afraid of voicing his opinions to the public in a time were blacks were often severely punished for doing so. He used his platform to reach more people than would have normally been possible and in doing so brought the plight of the African American into the forefront of popular news and in turn the limelight.

            Muhamad Ali was born in Louisville, Kentucky on the 17th of January 1942. By 18 he was an Olympian wining gold and turned professional a year later. It was around this time that he converted to Islam and changed his name. The change came about as the result of the conversion but also because of the meaning that the name Clay had to Ali. He said, that that name was the name that the white man had given him, referring to the era of slavery were blacks had no rights and the white men who owned them had all the power. When relating back to our readings we can see that this thinking aligns with the key terms that were given by Friere, in particular Autonomy, the “state or condition of having independence or freedom” along with the “state of being self-governed” are being shown here in Ali’s thinking as this is a step towards being independent of the white man who was the oppressor.

            Ali gained more press around the country and globe when he refused to serve in the army after being drafted for Vietnam. He would state the he considered himself a conscientious objector, stating that the war was an afront to his personal beliefs as well as the religious teaching of Islam. He had this to say on the war, “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No, I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over.” It is clear to see what Ali’s thoughts on the racial discrimination of the time was, but what made him so special was the platform he had and the fact the people were often times willing to listen to what he had to say something that could not be said about every black person of the time. After his refusal to serve he was stripped of his titles and sentenced to 5 years of prison. However, Ali fought the sentence and eventually saw it overturned and so he returned to boxing where he would reestablish himself at the top of the sport.

            It was those kinds of actions which made Ali such a positive example to the black community and he received much praise from civil rights leaders like Al Sharpton. The people he had the most effect on however were the athletes that would come after him. To say Ali changed the way sports personalities use their platform for change is an understatement. Ali reached millions and laid the blueprint of social activism through celebrity. Weather he wanted all the limelight or not it was the fact that regardless of the threat of jail and punishment for speaking his mind which was a fate that had befallen on so many black activists before him, that made him such a powerful voice. Ali transcended sports and a quote form him sums it up perfectly, “my main fight is for freedom and equality.”

Nike and Black Athletes

Featured Video

The video that I chose talks about Nike and the way that it uses social issues and controversies to generate revenue through advertising. The social issues and controversies that Nike often features in its ads pertain to social issues effecting black people in America and black athletes. The video focuses mainly on the Kaepernick protest and the ad that Nike made featuring him which saw online sales revenue jump 25% after being posted. I also want to discuss how social media is playing both negative and positive effects on these social issues and the importance of black athletes to these brands.

In the video they show multiple ads featuring Colin Kaepernick the first of which was a still picture which the following words over his face, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” As the video states, right after this ad went live people started burning their Nike gear and denouncing the brand. I remember when this ad was released because it really took over social media for a while. However as stated before it wasn’t all positive and I do remember seeing some very vile and nasty things wrote online about Kaepernick and the movement he stood for in general. However, it also triggered many positive responses and really did bring an already big topic to an even bigger audience, Nike is a global super brand and ads like these have the potential to reach millions, the video itself has over 28 million views on YouTube. So does the good outweigh the bad is my question, undoubtably these ads to cause people to spew hate and do silly things like burn their shoes as if that has any effect on Nike at all. The good on the other hand does outweigh the bad as it spreads a positive message to millions and brings social issues to the forefront of news and conversation.

Continuing the topic of athletes in Nike campaigns it is clear to see that like many other brands they do use a lot of black athletes in the advertising and these athletes are major assets to these companies. In the beginning of the video we have the ad about Kaepernick, and we get an introduction into the ads of Nike. Manny of them are about social issues and change like gender equality and promoting athletes with disabilities and HIV. Nike however does run a lot of ads that don’t always focus on social issues and in these ads black athletes play just as big a part. Weather we are talking about Michael Jordan who was the face of Nike for years, or Tiger Woods one of the most successful athletes of all time, Serena Williams arguably the most dominant tennis player in history or LeBron James who is a modern superstar the fact remains that it is clear to see that black athletes are vital to Nike as they are some of the most marketable and recognizable athletes in the world.

Although some may look at this and think that Nike is just using these ads to sell shoes and merchandise, I would argue that companies showing support and backing these athletes shows that they have faith in the athletes and their respective opinions. When relating this back to the readings I think of Freire as I believe that although Nike is in charge of the ad the original message of Kaepernick remains the same, his liberation and “freedom through thought” was not impeded as these ads stay true to the athlete’s ideas. This willingness to potentially take some negative feedback which does happen shows that companies believe there will be more positive than negative reception which I believe says something about the changes in thought and the political climate. I also know from personal experience that ads like these reach people who may not even be interested in sport and bring issues to light for them which may not have happened had it not been for these ads. In conclusion I believe that ads like these are effective ways to spread awareness of social issues and start dialogue about said issues.

NFL National Anthem Protests

Kaepernick knelling during the US National Anthem

In this blog post I will be focusing on an event that started two years ago but is still very relevant today because it focuses on injustices that haven’t stopped. The NFL national anthem protest started with Colin Kaepernick sitting during the national anthem during the 2016 NFL preseason. He would go on to change to kneeling during the anthem after consulting with a retired special forces army veteran and fellow NFL player Nate Boyer, the reason for this change was to not show disrespect to those wounded or killed while in service of the United States which includes veterans of the military and police for example. The kneeling was supposed to be a peaceful and respective way to protest racial inequality as well as police brutality.

It is important to point out that according to an NFL survey about 68% of all players in the NFL are African Americans, 4% are minorities and the rest is white. This means that many players in the NFL will see events of police brutality against minorities and feel that they too are in danger of falling victim to such an act. This is correlated by a quote from Kaepernick from 2016, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a country that oppresses black people and people of color, to me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” After the situation was made more public many of Kaepernick’s fellow NFL players followed suite and players joined regardless of their skin colour. Some teams stood and interlocked arms to show solidarity and the league seemed to be much in favour of supporting Kaepernick in his protest. I think this can be related to the notion of “asserting the right to be”, asserting the right to be upset over a situation and a acting because of it. A good quote from Carter G. Woodson that relates to this is from the poem “Know Thy Self” goes as follows, “A person who knows, and knows that they know, is wise—follow them”. I relate this to Kaepernick because he knew there was a problem in society was and so acted on it and we see that people followed him and supported him.

However, this was not to the liking of everyone, Donald Trump in 2017 stated that he believed it was the owners obligation to fire the players that protested and was quoted saying “get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired. He’s Fired!” Although he said that the statement was not related to race it brings us to the next major problem in this controversy. Although African Americans account for the majority of players in the league when you look at senior positions such as owners all of them are white. This makes it easy for their to be a disconnect, although some owners stood by their teams and their actions some were less supportive and in 2018 Rodger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL and all but two team owners voted to implement a new policy stating that all players must stand for the national anthem or stay in the locker room for it. The problem with this is that as rich white men in positions of power the very thing that was being protested was so far away from their reality that it is easy to assume, they didn’t give much thought about it at all since it was not a problem directly influencing them. In “The Atlanta Exposition Piece” Booker T. Washington stated that he believed that racial equality relied on the idea that people from different races work together to solve problems and, in this case, this was not what happened. Letting people who are not familiar with one’s plight and struggle decide what is to be done about your protest isn’t right and is just another way to silence people fighting for something they believe in. Colin Kaepernick has not played a down of football in the NFL since the 2016 NFL season.