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Sidelined: How American Sports Challenged the Black Freedom Struggle

Simon Henderson
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    In 1968, noted sociologist Harry Edwards established the Olympic Project for Human Rights, calling for a boycott of that year's games in Mexico City as a demonstration against racial discrimination in the United States and around the world. Though the boycott never materialized, Edwards's ideas struck a chord with athletes and incited African American Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos to protest by raising their black-gloved fists on the podium after receiving their medals.

    Sidelined draws upon a wide range of historical materials and more than forty oral histories with athletes and administrators to explore how the black athletic revolt used professional and college sports to promote the struggle for civil rights in the late 1960s. Author Simon Henderson argues that, contrary to popular perception, sports reinforced the status quo since they relegated black citizens to stereotypical roles in society. By examining activists' successes and failures in promoting racial equality on one of the most public stages in the world, Henderson sheds new light on an often-overlooked subject and gives voice to those who fought for civil rights both on the field and off.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4155-8
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  5. 1 Locating the Black Athletic Revolt in the Black Freedom Struggle
    (pp. 1-26)

    In the history of the United States, 1968 was no ordinary year. It was as if a decade’s worth of turmoil, of social and political upheaval, had been condensed into one tumultuous twelve-month period. Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were both assassinated. The Tet Offensive seemed to condemn American hopes for victory in Vietnam. Students brought college campuses across the country to a standstill as they protested American involvement in the war. The Democrat National Convention was surrounded by running battles between demonstrators and the police, who traded volleys of tear gas and balloons filled with urine. Many...

  6. 2 The Olympic Project for Human Rights: Genesis and Response
    (pp. 27-60)

    At the beginning of 1967, Ralph Boston was the long jump world record holder, having set the mark of eight meters, thirty-five centimeters two years previous. That was his fourth world record and he could also boast a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics and a silver medal in the Tokyo Games four years later. Boston was therefore a very likely candidate to make the U.S. team that would travel to Mexico City for the 1968 Olympics. In the year preceding these games there were calls from some within the black community to boycott the occasion as a protest against...

  7. 3 The Black Athletic Revolt on Campus
    (pp. 61-88)

    Far from the political activism surrounding Harry Edwards, the sprinters of Speed City, and the Harvard rowers was the University of Kansas athletics department. The institution’s teams were known as the Jayhawks—as a reference to the violence and turmoil of the Civil War era—and were members of the Big Eight Conference. In 1968 they would improve on their relatively mediocre performances of the previous two years and tie for the position of Big Eight football champions. On a Saturday in May of that year the players gathered to participate in the varsity intrasquad scrimmage at Memorial Stadium. Play...

  8. 4 Black Gloves and Gold Medals: Protests, Meanings, and Reactions at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics
    (pp. 89-120)

    Ralph Boston arrived at his third Olympics with the hope that he could add to the gold and silver medals he already possessed. The favorite to win gold in the long jump was Bob Beamon. He was one of a group of athletes who had been suspended from the University of Texas at El Paso earlier in the season for taking part in a protest against the racist practices of Brigham Young University. Racial tensions at El Paso had featured in Olsen’sSports Illustratedseries, and Beamon’s actions suggested that he shared Boston’s sympathy for the cause of the OPHR....

  9. 5 Beyond Mexico City: Sport, Race, Culture, and Politics
    (pp. 121-148)

    In 1969, the University of Wyoming Cowboys were dominating the Western Athletic Conference football standings. By the middle of October, they were unbeaten and ranked just outside the top ten college teams in the country. Coach Lloyd Eaton ran a talented and racially integrated team with black athletes recruited from across the United States. Eaton demanded discipline and total commitment and coached his team in the style of a military dictatorship. White player Alan Zerfoss later recalled, “Everyone respected [Eaton] because he was a very good disciplinarian, and you followed his rules…. What he was doing was working; we did...

  10. 6 Dixie and the Absence of a Black Athletic Revolt
    (pp. 149-178)

    Eddie Brown was a young white football fan in the eighth grade when his Tennessee school integrated. His father was a big fan of the University of Tennessee Volunteers and took his son to his first game when he was seven years old. Eddie fell in love with the orange and whites and made his mind up at an early age that he wanted to play for the university team. In 1970 Eddie graduated high school and had no hesitation in accepting a place at the Tennessee institution. When his mother and father dropped him off on campus as a...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 179-184)

    In March 2011 black Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall stirred controversy when he supported comments by Adrian Peterson, his Minnesota Vikings counterpart, that playing in the NFL was like modern-day slavery. Mendenhall posted on his Twitter page, “Anyone with knowledge of the slave trade and the NFL could say that these two parallel each other.” What caused real outrage were posts on his official Twitter page two months later referring to the celebrations following the killing of Osama bin Laden. Mendenhall commented, “What kind of person celebrates death? It’s amazing how people can HATE a man they have never...

  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 185-186)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 187-208)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 209-218)
  15. Index
    (pp. 219-228)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 229-230)