Sports, Society and Technology Program Hosts Successful Panel on Sports and the Black Freedom Struggle

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The year of 1968 was a year of political struggle, conflict, and change. The Civil Rights and Anti-War movements were particularly influential touching every component of U. S. culture including sport. The Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts’ Sports, Society, and Technology Program recently hosted a panel discussion to commemorate the 50th anniversary of 1968, a year which featured several highly visible cases of Black athlete activism.

Historians Johnny Smith (School of History and Sociology, Georgia Institute of Technology) and Ashley Brown (Department of History, University of Wisconsin, Madison) reflected upon the legacies of Black sporting activism including that of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, and Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ famous Black power salute during the playing of the national anthem at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Mexico. The panelists offered opening statements on the significance of 1968 with Dr. Smith, the Julius C. “Bud” Shaw Professor of Sports, Society, and Technology, discussing the Olympic Project for Human Rights, an organization led by Professor Harry Edwards then of San Jose State University and several prominent Black athletes. Dr. Brown, currently Visiting Fellow with the James Weldon Johnson Institute at Emory University, highlighted both the legacies of Black athlete protest against the racial status quo as well as the unique features of 1968 activism including the symbolism of the memorable Black power salute by Smith and Carlos.

The panelist then answered questions from the moderator, Dr. Mary G. McDonald, Homer C. Rice Chair in Sports and Society, as well as audience members. The panelists addressed such topics as the role of specific athletes in the Civil Rights movement such as basketball player Kareem Abdul Jabbar (then know as Lew Alcindor) and boxer Muhammad Ali. They also discussed the significance of athletes who helped to desegregate sport prior to 1968 including tennis star Althea Gibson and MLB player Jackie Robison.

Finally, the panelists analyzed the different public reactions to athlete activism, the role of Black women athletes in the struggle for Black liberation, and connections from 1968 to contemporary movements such as Black Lives Matter and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s anthem protests against racism. This conversation was not only important in shedding light upon the diverse strategies utilized within the Civil Rights movement, but also in providing historical contexts to better understand U. S. Black athlete activisms in the contemporary moment.

More information about the Sports, Society, and Technology Program and Research Center can be found at:


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    Kayleigh Haskin
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