As I was coming down off my high of Barack Obama being elected as the next president, I came across many comments and ideas about how this historical moment in history will impact the next generation and beyond. But there were some things that were said that made me pause and think: how have sports, in particular black sports figures (past and present), played a hand in helping Obama get to where he is at today. I’m pretty sure everyone has heard of Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Doug Williams, Michael Jordan, and many others, but the story of perceptions and stereotypes that these individuals have is widely unknown.
Jackie Robinson helped break down the racial barrier when he became the first black athlete to play MLB on April 15, 1947. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t easy for Robinson at first; many people, including his own teammates didn’t want him playing MLB, let alone on their team. He was called names, ridiculed, and even threatened but he remained steadfast and stood his ground. In doing so, Robinson was able to gain the respect and, more importantly, the understanding of his teammates and others in baseball. Without fully knowing it, Jackie Robinson has helped open the doors for other black sports figures, who would leave their impact not only on their respective sport but on society as well.
Muhammad Ali, even though very spoken at times, has been one of the most respectable people in today’s world, both inside and outside of the sports world for things he did in the ring and outside of it. Michael Jordan has proven to many that a black athlete can achieve commercial success and appeal to all audiences. As proof, he was been a spokesman for 10 major brands which include Nike, Gatorade, and McDonald’s, and starred in Warner Bros. Space Jam (a major box office success). Thanks to Michael Jordan, the NBA was able to increase its popularity and marketability throughout the world. Currently, he serves as part-owner for the Charlotte Bobcats. Doug Williams became the first and only black quarterback to win a Super Bowl and be honored with the Super Bowl MVP award. This accomplishment helped break down the stereotype the black people don’t have what it takes to function in a leadership position, whether it is in sports or in everyday life. Most recently, in Super Bowl 41, Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith became the first black coaches to take their teams to the Super Bowl, with Dungy being the first black coach to win the Super Bowl. This moment sent a powerful message to football programs everywhere (high school, college, etc.) that a black man can make their programs successful.
All of these individuals and more tore down the view that many in white America had on black people; in essence they were proven wrong. They were shown that black people can overcome adversity no matter how bad the situation mayight be, contribute to the world around us, achieve commercial success, and when put in positions of leadership, we can lead our teams to the land of victory. It also showed when given the chance, we can and often do contribute to the world around us, and that we can make a difference. I want to say this new way of thinking is what helped Obama get elected president, but one cannot be for sure. One thing which is for sure, however, is hand in hand, Obama and the sports world will hopefully breakdown wrongful perceptions and damage stereotypes that will open the eyes of America and help open opportunities for not only black people, but minorities everywhere.