Racism has invaded various segments of society and it remains pervasive despite epic strides made by people of color. In the world of sports, however, racism of a vicious sort continues to fester and often goes largely unchecked, most recently exemplified by the Donald Sterling situation.
Racism in sports was the norm at one point, as sports were segregated across the board. Black athletes often had to play in minor leagues or inferior environments compared to their white counterparts, or they weren’t even allowed to play.
Olympic track star Jesse Owens excelled at the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin, Germany. While Nazi leader Adolf Hitler promoted the” superiority “of the Aryan race, Owens went on to win four gold medals. But even with Owens’ success, then President Franklin D. Roosevelt failed to acknowledge the achievement.
Negro League Baseball was born in the late 1880s because White teams wouldn’t allow Black players to suit up, giving rise to a variety of small Black-owned leagues in the 20th Century. In Latin America, players of color didn’t face those barriers but leagues there didn’t have the reach or exposure of major league baseball.
Yes, Jackie Robinson’s historic moment desegregated the major leagues in 1947, but did very little to erase the ugliness of bigotry. Robinson faced taunts and death threats, but stuck to his agreement with Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey to ignore the insults. Robinson lasted two years before finally responding, becoming a champion of equal rights for players and decrying Jim Crow laws.
Tennis great Althea Gibson was the first Black woman to win Wimbledon. She predated the Williams sisters by 40 years but also dealt with the same racist beliefs that the sisters experienced. In the 1950s segregation was still practiced in American and despite winning championships, Gibson was denied rooms at hotels and shunned at restaurants. Still, her pioneering accomplishments paved the way for Arthur Ashe and Venus and Serena Williams.