Racial Resistance In Sports


Race and Racism is a struggle that is a big part of America’s history and still is. With that being said, sports in America went through that same struggle, and are still going through it. With all the struggles, Institutional racism and individual racism have been fundamental components of sports in America. The playing fields of America were slowly integrated in the twentieth century, and in the twenty-first century the struggle has shifted to equity in off-the-field opportunities. A lot of people in today’s day think that when they are not given an opportunity that it is due to their skin color. Due to the history of slavery I believe that in society today and in society of the future the thought of being racist and even “reverse racism” will forever be a part of our society.

There is no way to forget about the past and act like it never happened but there is a way to make things easier on society. Things that can do this and have an impact are educating the present about the past, and resistance movements. Educating somebody about racism undoubtedly starts at home, but there are things that can be taught in the classroom as well. There already have been a lot of different resistance groups that have succeeded in fighting racism in society.

One of the things I am going to talk about is the different forms of resistance that has occurred in the past that has helped shape the present, as well as contemporary forms of resistance that will help shape the future. Although I believe that racism will forever remain



The rise of the American sporting scene began during nineteenth century and then rose up after the Civil War due to urbanization and industrialization. Colored people’s participation in this growing sporting experience was greatly affected by race and racism. America embraced the formal legal segregation towards the end of the century which led to the eviction of African Americans from sports. African Americans were involved in all of the major popular sports of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century’s, from horse racing, baseball, and bicycling to boxing and football. Black athletes were systematically removed from all professional sports with the creation of formal color barriers by the early twentieth century. Professional football was one of the last sports to force black athletes out of its ranks by the 1930s, but it was one of the first to reintegrate beginning in 1946. This was the beginning of the struggles that society now goes through. Even though it has been hard and took a lot of time, I’d say that the progress of equality is coming along great from the point society once came from.

Resistance of the Past

The first form of racial resistance in college led to the first ever black player to play in the Sugar Bowl. In 1955 Marvin Griffin, the governor of Georgia, banned Georgia Tech from playing in the Sugar Bowl against the University of Pittsburgh because they  had a black player on their team. His name was Bobby Grier. Students from Georgia Tech marched on the Capital and forced the governor to relent. Grier became the first African American to play in the Sugar Bowl. What was surprising to me was that instead of the students from the University of Pittsburgh marching it was the students of Georgia Tech. This makes me wonder if they were fighting for Bobby Grier’s sake, or if they were fighting for Georgia Tech’s sake of playing in the Sugar Bowl. I could not find information on this but nonetheless, Grier was able to play and became the first black to do it.

A small form of resistance that has occurred was by an intramural basketball team from the University of Northern Colorado at Greeley. They stirred controversy in 2002 by flipping the balance of power by naming their team the “Fightin’ Whities.” The team, who was made up of Native American, White, and Latino players, wanted to draw attention to the racist history and tradition of naming teams after stereotypical depictions of Indigenous Peoples.  The team fundraised through t-shirt sales, and was able to raise a good amount of money and donate a sizable scholarship for students at UNC. They named it the “Fightin’ Whites Minority Scholarship” for Native American students.  This is a great example of a form of resistance to the kinds of racism we deal with in sports today. It shows that anybody can form a resistance group and help out the cause.


Contemporary Resistance

I never really paid attention to the names of sports teams and never thought any of them would be in any way shape or form racist. It wasn’t until a came across an article that was criticizing the teams with derogatory names such as the Washington Redskins. When you think about it what if it was the other way around and had a professional team such as the “Fightin’ Whities,” or even the New Jersey Niggers.




Do you think society would allow such a thing? No! So I don’t see why indigenous people can be treated like that. I can go on and on but what I am trying to say is that how do we expect for racism to stop when it is in plain sight right in front of us.  A form of resistance on a bigger scale was when,” Colorado State Senator Suzanne Williams introduced a bill that would require all public and charter high schools in Colorado to ask approval from the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs to ensure that the mascot was accountable and respectful.” (changefromwithin.org) Local pressure was applied to school boards and state legislatures all over the country in hopes of encouraging high schools to change Indian mascots to something more respectful.  The NCAA even attempted to have all American Indian mascots eliminated from participating schools, but it decided that it could not force schools to change their mascots and simply ruled that such mascots could not represent teams in the NCAA playoffs. This ultimate will lead to teams changing their derogatory name if they want to get into the playoffs which any school would definitely want. There are things that can be done on a big scale that only a person in a certain position can make but there are tons of things that can be done by anybody but we as a society have to want to change.



Personal Analysis and Recommendations

At one time I believed that the best way to abolish racism and oppression was to not educate young children about the events of what occurred in the past and how it affects society. This at the time seemed like a very good idea to me, but when I thought more on it I realized that it actually wasn’t. If that were to happen, those young children would sooner or later find out what the rest of the world is actually like. After realizing this I came to the conclusion that the society that we came to live in is possible and only possible because of where we came from. The past is the past but it will and forever be there no matter what happens. Although it is with us forever, I am certain that we can lessen the load. This can be done, has been done, and will be done due to different forms of resistance groups. The resistance will chip away at the huge trunk of racism and oppression in hopes of one day chopping the tree down.


Scholarly References


1. Race, Racism and Sports Journalism by Neil Farrington, Daniel Kilvington, John Price and Amir Saeed (May 26, 2012) Formats


2. Sport and the Color Line: Black Athletes and Race Relations in Twentieth Century America by Patrick B. Miller and David K. Wiggins (Nov 26, 2003)


3. Race, Sport and the American Dream by Earl Smith (Jul 15, 2009)


4. Race, Sport and Politics: The Sporting Black Diaspora (Published in association with Theory, Culture & Society) by Ben Carrington (Aug 30, 2010)


5. Commodified and Criminalized: New Racism and African Americans in Contemporary Sports (Perspectives on a Multiracial America) by David J.


6. Race and Sport: The Struggle for Equality on and off the Field (Chancellor Porter L. Fortune Symposium in Southern History S) by Charles K. Ross (Jan 1, 2006)


7. Broken Promises: Racism in American Sports by Richard Edward Lapchick (May 1984)



1. Fightin’ Whities intramural basketball team:


History of racism in sports


2. History of racism in sports



3. Some history of indigenous people in sports



4. Reference to “Fightin’ Whities” and Indian teams



5. Indigenous resistance groups



6. Racism in golf



7. More on sports and racism

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