Almanac Life: Black Lives Matter


Image: Wiki Commons


America is going to hell in a handbasket. A failing economy, compounded by a pandemic running riot across their land, and exacerbating it is the long-standing racism particularly towards Afro-Americans. In this article I’ll use the term Black ahead of Afro as that’s the term that seems to have primacy in this context. Black Americans have endured centuries of injustice, now the Black Lives Matter Movement Is the latest attempt to counter the racism.


Over time we’ve heard of courageous individuals from the sporting world taking a stand against racism. Names like Paul Robeson, Jesse Adams, Muhammad Ali, Anthea Gibson are among those whose individual actions agonist racism are legendary.


In this most recent series of events it’s gone beyond individuals to actual teams making a stance taking a stand against racism . The National Basketball Association (NBA) supported by the National Basketballers Players Association (NBPA) have been involved in boycotting matches as a way of taking a strong, public stand against the racism. Some team such as the Los Angeles Lakers speak not of boycotting a match(es), but the whole 2020-21 season.


Kicked off by the Milwaukee Bucks we’ve seen an NBA player strike on August 26, this being the fourth anniversary of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s initial protesting of police brutality, and systemic racism, using the national anthem as the setting for his act of kneeling.  We now see whole teams kneel during the national anthem. The slogan, Black Lives Matter adorns playing arenas, also players clothing.  Beyond basketball other sporting codes have also seen united actions supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement.


With the death of George Floyd, then the shooting of Jacob Blake, anger has swept across America, with the Black Lives Matter Movement appearing in many forums, and settings, getting their message heard. I thought I may touch on some previous occurrences where American sporting teams have taken a stand against racism. Let’s take a trip down memory lane, looking at some previous times when a team(s) of players had stood up to racism.


When in Lexington, Kentucky, for an exhibition match before the 1961-62 NBA season, Bill Russell and the other black members of the Boston Celtics were refused service at a restaurant. They boycotted the game, a ground-breaking statement at a time when blacks were still expected not to complain publicly about discrimination. All black players from the opposing team, the St. Louis Hawks, also refused to play. The game however went ahead, as all the white players from both teams chose to play. Russell became a long-term activist for racial equality, who still supports the actions of current NBA players in their struggle against racism.  An example of Russell’s commitment is following the 1963 assassination of civil rights leader Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi, he flew to Jackson to assist with integrated basketball camps.


        The American Football League, (AFL)  All-Star Game was being played in New Orleans at Tulane Stadium on Jan. 16, 1965. Organisers of the match had advised there would be no racial problems holding the match in New Orleans.  However, when the 21 black players arrived in the city they were met with hostility and denials of service, even taxi rides from the airport to their accommodation was refused.  Hotels and restaurants were overt in their racist treatment of black players.


This caused outrage amongst many players. Meetings of players were quickly held with even white AFL stars including Buffalo quarterback Jack Kemp, and famous San Diego offensive tackle Ron Mix, taking up the cause of fighting this racism. Subsequently the players told AFL commissioner Joe Foss they would not play a match in New Orleans due to the racism. In response to the players stand, the game was moved to Houston.


It was anticipated 60, 000 people would have attended the clash in New Orleans, however nary 15,000 turned up in Houston. More importantly many long held racist actions, and behaviours, in New Orleans were promptly changed.  For example, it had long been ‘understood’ black passengers only sat in the back of the bus. This was quickly put in the dust bin of history.


Then there were those who became known as the Syracuse 8, though there were nine African Americans on the Syracuse University football team who decided to sit out the 1970 season. They aimed to bring racial equality to a program which had produced Pro Football Hall of Famers including Jim Brown, and 1961 Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis. Their demands included better medical care, and stronger academic support for all student-athletes, fair intrasquad competition, and the integration of the coaching staff. One concern was the University’s refusal to find a black assistant coach.


A black assistant coach was employed. This gain was quickly annulled, as the University hierarchy took a position saying that as the players had missed practice due to protesting, they would not be selected in the team. Subsequently only two of them ever played for the university again, though substantial investigations, and changes, were made to tackle racism in Syracuse University.  In 2006, Syracuse University belatedly gave the group the Chancellor’s Medal also the letterman jackets, befitting their skill as footballers.


Racism in sport has not exempted us in Australia. The sad end to Adam Goodes sterling career, the recent airing of the treatment of former St Kilda player Robbie Muir, even the online racial abuse Sydney’s Elijah Taylor has copped are some of the many stains on Australia’s sporting fabric. As I was taught, and we need to remember, White Australia has a Black History.


As America approaches its presidential election later this year the world watches with trepidation. If he loses, can President Trump accept defeat, or if not how will he, with his supporters, respond? If President Trump wins you can only imagine further encouragement for racism.


The future is unwritten.




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  1. Thanks for this Glen!

    I watch American politics with fascination, but with an increasing disinterest in America’s fortunes.

  2. kieran dempsey says

    Thanks Glen
    I teach a History of Sport course to Year 9 boys and this is aricle is full of good examples from the past that puts present events into some context.

  3. kieran dempsey says

    Thanks Glen
    I teach a History of Sport course to Year 9 boys and this artcle is full of good examples from the past that puts present events into some context.

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