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AFRICAN

AMERICAN
ATHLETES
AND SOCIAL
MEDIA
By: Francess Gideon
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Thesis: Prominent, professional, African American athletes in the United States are
using sport arenas through activism, in their attempt to fight racial inequality, on social
and political platforms and they do so in a changing media environment.
• Scholars investigating black athlete activism and anti-racist protests are looking at
todays professional athletes and social media as the so-called “golden age” of
activism. The golden age of activism was characterized by vigorous outspokenness,
with politically engaged athletes; however, these were treated as deviants and
punished for their forthrightness.
• Black male athletes were among the most important and influential voices during
the 1960s civil rights movement and it help set the foundation for future athletes
• African American men and women athletes protested in ways to highlight injustice,
galvanize support and move the country forward. Often met with positive or
negative backlash from fans, critics, league officials, executives, owners, analysts, etc.
• Athletes have vowed to not just “stick to sports” or ”shut up and dribble”
“GOLDEN-AGE” PRE SOCIAL MEDIA

• In 1967, Muhammed Ali one of the most influential athletes of his generation,
protested the Vietnam War as racially unjust by refusing to be drafted. (the decision
derailed his fighting career for years.
• After winning gold and bronze medals in the 200m race at the 1968 Mexico City
Olympic games, USA track and field athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised
a gloved-fist to symbolize the struggle for human rights in a year marked tragically
by the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy. (led
to difficulties of finding jobs and many death threats)
• Bill Russell participated in the March on Washington in 1963, was vocal during
segregation and held integrated basketball clinics in Mississippi. (In 2010, he received
the medal of freedom for his contributions).
• Honorable mention* Jack Johnson, Jesse Owens, Althea Gibson, Wilma Rudolph,
and Jackie Robinson faced racism and discrimination in sport .
CURRENT “GOLDEN AGE” SOCIAL
MEDIA

• In 2016, Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem on a nationally televised NFL game in solidarity of
recent police brutality attacks on African American men and women. (Gained awareness globally, including current
President, TWEETING for action against Kap and any other athlete who decided to kneel against the anthem. Kaepernick
since then has not be in the NFL, but has now become the face of the Nike.)
• Tennis Star Serena Williams recently, had an controversial moment with chair umpire during the U.S Open, when the
official took a point from her after, being accused of being coached and slamming her racquet on the ground. She felt like
the umpire was being unfair and that in past matches, players had gotten away with much worse. (Loss match but her
quote has been spot on all media coverages- “I don’t cheat to win, i’d rather lose”)
• Black Lives Matter Movement has been supported by NFL, NBA, WNBA, MLB and from players across the globe. During
the ESPY’s NBA stars like Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul expressed their support of the
values behind the Black Lives Matter movement. This was followed by a campaign of support from athletes such as:
• #ICANTBREATHE
• #HandsUpDontShoot
• Black Hoodies on
• More than an Athlete
• Shut up and Dribble
• These campaigns' were taken to twitter, Facebook, Instagram, media coverages and ran through the sports and social
realm.
ATHLETES
STATS AND FACTS
YOU EVER NOTICED?
MORE THAN JUST ATHLETES
Fans often are resistant to athletes who choose to speak up in support of social issues, and “such reprimands often involve fans
reminding athletes to stick to ‘what they know best’ (e.g., playing the sport)” (Schmittel & Sanderson, 2015, p. 336). As Kaufman
(2008) discovered, athletes who use their platforms to advocate for social and/or political causes often find themselves criticized
and marginalized. This is particularly true for Black athletes who face stereotypes of being brawny rather than brainy, and thus
are not expected to be (or welcomed into) debates about politics or current affairs. These athletes have opted to do play a role in
CONCLUSION

• From early on African American professionals have made powerful media


portrayals , that cultivated social media and their impact, regardless of the
amount of media usage, it is important to take a stance.
• But just as sports media is growing in popularity, so too is the athlete activist.
The traditional belief that athletes should avoid politics at all cost, that they
should just “shut up and play,” as political sportswriter Dave Zirin so
eloquently puts it, is gradually being replaced by the new norm of the socially
active athlete.
REFERENCES

• “A Timeline of the NFL Protests from Colin Kaepernick's to Now.” The Irish News, 25 Sept. 2018,
www.irishnews.com/magazine/daily/2017/09/25/news/a-timeline-ofthe-nfl-protests-from-colin-
kaepernick-s-to-now-1145483/. “About.” Black Lives Matter, blacklivesmatter.com/about/.
• Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem. “Abdul-Jabbar: Insulting Colin Kaepernick Says More about Our Patriotism
than His.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 30 Sept. 2018,
www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/08/30/insulting-colinkaepernick-says-more-about-
our-patriotism-than-his/?utm_term=.6e28f739ea07.
• https://bettingsites.me.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/16-05-2018-Infographic-increasing-sport-
socialmedia.png
• Bullas, J. (2014). 22 Social Media Facts and Statistics You Should Know in 2014. Retrieved at
http://www.jeffbullas.com/2014/01/17/20-social-media-facts-and-statistics-you-should- know-in-2014/
• Cole, C. and Andrews, D. (1996). Look—It’s NBA Showtime! Visions of Race in the Popular Imagery’,
Cultural Studies Annual 1: 141-181