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African American Athlete: Their Role In American Culture

2305 words - 10 pages

Sports played and continue to play a pivotal role in American history and culture. Baseball provided an escape from the stress and frustration of WWII, a beacon of light during hard times and later helped influence integration. Athletes became symbols of what being a true American meant and many sports enhanced American culture. One of the most prolific changes sports brought to our society was the beginning of racial equality on the field. It encouraged and aided the fledgling equal rights movement that evolved in the 1960s. African American athletes were considered second-class citizen until sports provided the first taste of equality. Teams life the Indians, Dodgers and Giants led the way for all teams to accept black players on equal footing. More sports then followed, helping to pave the way for the equal rights movement. African American athletes provided a spark of social and cultural change as America was at the emergence of the civil rights movement.
Discrimination and segregation of African Americans had existed for generations. Whites and blacks were separated in schools, churches, on buses, in restaurants and on the playing fields. In the early 1900’s, there was not only continued bias towards African Americans; many lived in contiguous neighborhoods, minimizing interaction with other Americans. Sports where African Americans once demonstrated dominance such as cycling and horse racing discriminated also. Cyclist Marshall “Major” Taylor at one time dominated American cycling until “jealous white rivals colluded to force Taylor to see his sustenance in Europe by 1901” (Wiggins, p.158) Taylor was a pioneer for African American athletes. He “overcame the constraints of a society bounded by the racial hypocrisy of ‘Jim Crow’ and the ‘separate but equal’ ad hoc segregation of Plessy v. Ferguson to establish himself as a uniquely controversial figure in one of the most popular sports of his day” (Wiggins p. 63). Equality in sports was slow to develop “the vast majority of black Americans still had limited social horizons and few athletic possibilities outside the confines of their communities” (Wiggins 63). Sports for African Americans were played on the streets and in their own local recreation centers. These facilities were not abundant and therefore substantially limited African American access to organized sports. As organized sports began to flourish in the white communities, blacks began to organize and become more interested in participation in black organized sports. As the demand increased, a number of recreation centers and programs were instituted to keep blacks separated from the whites. For example, the YMCA was an established program in America that catered to urban white communities encouraging families to participate in all types of sporting activities. The YMCA programs offered sponsored teams and leagues to encourage a healthy lifestyle and provide an outlet for the average white American to participate in...

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