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Race still matters in professional sports

Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling
Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

This summer marks the fiftieth year anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. The law opened the flood gates for programs and other organized efforts to bring racial discrimination to an end, including the prejudice African American athletes encountered. There has been obvious progress in ending racial discrimination in sports and notable success for many African American athletes over the past fifty years. Despite this many African American sports fans of early “baby boomer” age, 59 to 69 years old, still believe race still matters. A look into their past will give a better understanding of why they believe it still does. These African American early “baby boomers” learned of racial prejudiced from those who suffered through it. They were raised by the generation that were only allowed on white golf courses as caddies, that sat in the outfield bleachers set aside for colored fans in many Major League stadiums, and that supported Negro League baseball because the national pastime was for whites only. In the 1950s when the African American “baby boomers” became more aware of sports, they were influenced by growing racial pride. They developed an affinity for teams having the most African American players; the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers, New York/San Francisco Giants, Boston Celtics, Cleveland Browns, and Baltimore Colts. Their heroes were sports pioneers such as Jackie Robinson, Althea Gibson, Bill Russell, “Sugar” Ray Robinson, and Jim Brown. As they grew older, these African American early “baby boomers’ saw racial prejudice themselves in the 1960s. They saw Muhammad Ali stripped of his heavyweight boxing crown and the racial turmoil that followed John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s “black power” protest during a medal ceremony at the 1968 Summer Olympics. Believing race still matters in sports does not make these African American early “baby boomers” racist. It is their visual and emotional connections to African Americans’ history of confronting racial prejudice that reminds them that race could still be a hidden issue facing today’s African American athletes. It is certainly not in all instances, but a few is too many considering how far race relations have come since 1964. This is why the comments of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling did not surprise those who still think race matters. Nor did the bullying scandal involving the Miami Dolphin offensive linemen where race was a component.