THE INTEGRATION OF AMERICAN SPORTS

Reading assignment:

Read from the following articles:

Jesse Owens
   
Jesse Owens' Olympic Triumph Over Time and Hitlerism
    Stealing Hitler's Show

Jackie Robinson

    Jackie Robinson
    Baseball's Noble Experiment

Muhammad Ali
   
Muhammad Ali

Names/Terms to know:

Jackie Robinson
Branch Rickey - owner, Brooklyn Dodgers who signed Jackie Robinson to a contract
Pee Wee Reese - Brooklyn Dodger shortstop and teammate of Jackie Robinson; member, Baseball Hall of Fame
Negro Leagues
Jesse Owens
1936 Nazi Olympic Games (Berlin)
Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson
Sam Stoller and Marty Glickman - American qualifiers for 4 X 100 meter relay team in 1936, who were not allowed to compete in Berlin Games by their own coaches, were Jewish.
Muhammed Ali (Cassuis Clay)
Sonny Liston - Heavyweight boxing champion, defeated by Muhammad Ali for world title
Howard Cosell - ABC sportscaster who defended Ali's right to refuse induction into US military.
Texas Western (currently known as UTEP) - Won 1966 NCAA basketball tournament with five Black starters, over the University of Kentucky, which had no Black players on its team.

Sample test questions:

What major league baseball team signed Jackie Robinson to a contract?
What does the term "a credit to his race" really mean?
How did Jackie Robinson change the character of American sports?
How did Robinson's arrival in the Major Leagues impact segregation in America?
How did Muhammed Ali change the perception of America towards black athletes?
What was the significance of the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship Game of 1965?
Describe the role played by Jesse Owens in the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympic Games.

1.  Jesse Owens

Jesse Owens was born in 1913 in Alabama, but his family moved to Cleveland when he was eight.  In high school, he tied the world record in the 100 yard dash.  He chose to attend Ohio State University.  There he faced the continuing world of American segregation, unabated by any success he enjoyed on the athletic field.  He became a renown track athlete when he set three world records and tied another on May 25, 1935, all within 90 minutes of each other, at the Big Ten Track Championships.  He became a real threat to win several medals at the 1936 Olympic Games, planned for Berlin.  In a time when the Nazis were gathering themselves for the upcoming world war, the Olympic Games were an opportunity for the Nazis to prove themselves the Master Race.

Owens dispelled the idea of the supremacy of the white Aryan race when he won four gold medals, at Berlin, in the 100 meters, the 200 meters, the long jump, and in the 4 x 400 meter relay. 

The cruel irony of the 1936 Olympic Games came not from Adolf Hitler but rather from the American track and field team. The Nazis were already widely known to be prejudicial towards the Jews.  There had been reports that the U.S. was considering a boycott of the Games to protest the Nazi treatment of Jews.  The only two Jewish members of the American track team were Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller.  The American track team officials eliminated them from the 4 x 400 meter relay team and, in Glickman's case, openly ignored the fact that Glickman had a faster relay time than Foy Draper, who replaced him on the 4 x 400 meter relay squad.

After the Games were over, Owens returned to the segregated USA and was unable to achieve any financial success in spite of being a decorated Olympic athlete.  He was reduced to taking races for money against horses, other athletes, and even motorcycles. 

2.  Jackie Roosevelt Robinson

"He could hit and bunt and steal and run. He had intimidating skills, and he burned with a dark fire." --author Roger Kahn

Baseball, like the rest of America, remained segregated after the end of World War II.  Negro Leagues flourished and often times barnstormed after the season against all star major league teams.  With stars such as Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard and Satchel Paige, black teams could more than hold their own against the best of major league baseball.  White baseball owners found they could make a tidy sum of money renting out ballparks such as Yankee Stadium and Comiskey Park to the Negro Leagues.  The last black to play in the major leagues was Moses Fleetwood Walker, who played in 1885.  No black had played in the majors since.

Owner Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers  set about to find a black player to sign and bring into major league baseball.  That player would have to be strong enough to weather the harsh racism sure to follow, and good enough to hold his own on the baseball diamond.  That player, then a member of the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues, was Jackie Robinson.  Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia in 1919, but was raised by his mother in Pasadena, California. A gifted athlete, Jackie was a fine player, and he had the fire needed for the trials that lie ahead.  Robinson promised Mr. Rickey when he signed that he would not respond to the racist taunts that would come with his appearance in the National League.

Robinson entered the Dodger farm system in April 1946 as a player for the Montreal Royals, the next step below the majors itself.   In April, 1947, Robinson appeared with the Dodgers and broke the color barrier.  In order to avoid the racism of Florida during spring training, the Dodgers trained in Cuba that year.  In a nation still committed to a separation of the races, and facing the worst possible taunts of racism from baseball fans and other players, to include his own teammates, Jackie Robinson became the most dynamic player the major leagues had seen.   Jackie was elected Rookie of the Year in 1947.  In 1962, he became the first black player to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. 

Many black baseball greats followed Robinson such as Larry Doby,  Roy Campanella,  Don Newcombe, and Willie Mays.  The Boston Red Sox were the last team to finally sign a black player when they signed Pumpsie Green in 1959, a dozen years after Robinson appeared for the Dodgers.  The Negro Leagues eventually folded in the 1950s as their best players signed with Major League Baseball.  The last active MLB player who had been in the Negro Leagues was the great Henry Aaron.

Jackie Robinson died  far too early.  Just a few days after he was honored at the 1972 World Series in a ceremony recognizing the 25th anniversary of his first major league appearance, he died of complications from diabetes.  Far more importantly, Major League Baseball, thanks to the courage of Robinson and Rickey, had taken the lead on racial integration in the US.  Baseball was followed by the military services, which integrated during the Korean War, and by the Supreme Court in 1954 in the landmark Brown v. Topeka Board of Education decision in 1954.  Finally the nation had come to grips with the institutional racism formed in the years after the American Civil War.

"Life is not a spectator sport..... If you're going to spend your whole life in the grandstands just watching what goes on, in my opinion, you're wasting your life." -- Jackie Robinson

3.  Muhammed Ali/Cassius Clay

In the Rome Olympic Games of 1960, Cassius Clay of Louisville won a gold medal in boxing in the light heavyweight division. Seemingly just another medalist from the Rome Games, Clay returned home and began his professional boxing career, a career that ended with him surpassing Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson as the most famous fighter of all time, and a career that ended with him considered the greatest heavyweight champion ever.

Young Clay was moving up the heavyweight division. Not only was he winning, "Gaseous Cassius" Clay was talking. And bragging. And most people wanted the "Louisville Lip" to plain shut up. The evil and menacing Heavyweight Champion Sonny Liston suddenly became the good guy, who was finally going to shut the braggart up once and for all. Liston, with his awesome left hook, was sure to beat up the young Clay, who was quick but thought to have no punch. The two met in Miami Beach, and when it was over, the good Liston ended the fight sitting on his stool, unable to answer the bell for the eighth round, and the evil Clay was the new champion. Most fight experts seemed stunned at the result, having watched Clay "float like a butterfly, sting lie a bee."

Liston faded from memory, while Ali sailed through the heavyweight division, beating up the likes of the Canadian "People's Champion" George Chuvalo, the "Bayonne Bleeder" Chuck Wepner, the "washerwoman" Floyd Patterson, Englandís Brian London, Germanyís Karl Mildenberger, most of the time predicting when the next chump would fall: "Heíll be mine in nine" or "Heíll be in heaven after seven."

In 1967, the by now invincible Ali took his boldest stand. He refused to be inducted into the U.S. Army when he was drafted during the Vietnam War. In the past, American athletes had served their nation during wartime. Joe Louis, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and a host of others had served during World War II. Goodness, even Elvis Presley had been drafted in the 1950s and had served in Germany. Most argued that Ali would only have to fight boxing exhibitions for the troops stationed around the globe, it wasnít as if he was going to be serving in combat.

But Ali claimed, "I donít have no quarrel with them Viet Congs," and "No VC ever called me nigger."  He refused to be inducted. He claimed exemption on religious grounds, that he was a Muslim preacher. The nation seemed outraged that an ungrateful Ali, who had made millions of dollars, would not stand up for his country. Eventually a Federal Court in Houston found him guilty of draft dodging and sentence him to five years in jail and a $10,000 fine, pending appeal.  Around the country boxing promoters did not bother to wait for a court decision, and  pulled Aliís boxing license, stripped him of his championship status, and left Ali unable to fight for three years, at the height of his career.

In 1970, the New York State Supreme Court ruled that Ali's civil rights had been violated when the state boxing commission had stripped him of his license before he had been convicted of any crime, which allow Ali to return to the ring and resume his boxing career, though robbed of three years in his prime. He lost for the first time, in a title fight, to "Smokiní"Joe Frazier, the new "good" black prizefighter. In 1971, the US Supreme Court ruled that Ali was entitled to his religious exemption from the military service.  He later beat Frazier twice, including the famous "Thrilla in Manila" fight. In 1974, in Zaire in Africa, Ali was slated to try and wrest the heavyweight title from the next champion, the much feared George Foreman, who had made a mess of the heavyweight division, including Joe Frazier. Foreman, who had waved an American flag when he won an Olympic gold medal in Mexico City in 1968, seemed to be an insurmountable opponent for Ali.  Ali taunted Foreman, calling him a "gorilla" and an "Uncle Tom." Boxing fans feared what the hard hitting Foreman would do to Ali. Howard Cosell begged Ali not to take on the fight, fearing permanent injury for his friend. In the rumble in the jungle, amidst a cheering throng of supporters, Ali surprised the world and his fans by knocking out an exhausted Foreman.

By now Ali had become the beloved one. He held on to his title for a few more years, but age finally caught up with him. He became a shell of himself, but monetary woes forced him to continue to fight well beyond his prime. It was a painful sight to see the once great Ali struggle even in victory, and to lose to lesser fighters such as Larry Holmes and Leon Spinks. Eventually Aliís career ended.

In retirement Ali remains a hallowed figure. His once great speaking skills that had earned him the moniker of the "Louisville Lip" were also lost, to Parkinsonís Disease brought on by his lifetime of boxing. In spite of this, he remains the greatest heavyweight boxer ever, and the most revered prizefighter around the globe.

4.  Texas Western v. Kentucky, 1966 NCAA Basketball Championship Game, Cole Field House, University of Maryland

Recommended Readings

Roger Kahn, The Boys of Summer, 1972
Jackie Robinson, I Never Had It Made, 1972
Arnold Rampersad, Jackie Robinson: A Biography, 1997
Robert W. Peterson, Only the Ball Was White, 1970