If you turn on the news today, there is a strong possibility that at least one of the stories will center on a Black male athlete. From Colin Kaepernick to LeBron James, the narrative surrounding these athletes often centers on the intersections of race, gender, politics and sports. Historically, the narrative often reduced these men to just physical specimens capable of playing sports.
One author, Dr. Clyde Posley, Jr. argues that it is time for us to rethink not only how we see Black male athletes, but also how we understand their historical role in protesting, challenging, and changing America’s perception of the Black community.
The Black Coffy staff had a chance to speak with Dr Posley about his new book, More than Icons and Images: Uncovering the Hidden Protest Narrative of the Black American Athlete in the 21st Century.
Black Coffy: Thank you for joining us. What made you write this book?
Dr. Posley: Growing up in urban America, I saw firsthand the results of subjugation, oppressive segregation and the results of a lack of education and misinformation, all of which were fueled by racism. This book is one of my many efforts to help as many people as possible understand that racism has fueled the great social divisions within the cultures of America. Most importantly, it can be healed. Healing comes through knowledge and understanding which is often fostered by discussions that begin with ideas in books.
From the barber shop to the boardroom, this book was written to address those issues which keep men (through divisions) from working together to heal America and which prevent us from leaving impactful footprints that our culture and future generations can follow.
Black Coffy: You use the 1968 Olympic Medal Stand Protest to anchor your discussion. What do people misunderstand about the protest?
Dr. Posley: I believe the greatest misunderstanding about the 1968 Medal Stand protest are the notions that Tommie Smith, and John Carlos sought to bring disruption or division to the Olympic Games of 1968. Instead, Smith and Carlos sought to use their platform to ask the world to see them as equal and valuable citizens of America, not just as great athletes.
Black Americans were being fire-hosed for protesting racist treatment. They had been lynched and brutalized back at home in the streets like dogs. Yet, these men were being celebrated just for their athletic feats in sports arenas. They needed America and the rest of the world to know that the plight of Black Americans was a collective plight.
The true message, then, was that they, as human beings, were entitled to be heard. Their platform just happened to be an international one with far reaching implications. Today, we still misunderstand it when athletes use their platforms. When we don’t take the time to understand the motivation or the historical context, it leads to misunderstanding.
Black Coffy: How does the 1968 Medal Stand protest relate to what we see today in sports and politics today?
Dr. Posley: Because sports remain woven into virtually every facet of American life, the Medal Stand Protest of 1968 relates to sports and politics today in three ways. First, the oppressive and often brutal forms of institutionalized racism and the immediate criminalization of Black males challenged by Smith and Carlos are just as evident today.
Secondly the media coverage of social warfare is still influenced by classism, racism and political opinion and partisans (Democrats vs. Republicans) as they were in 1968 when Brent Musburger commented that Smith and Carlos looked like “black stormtroopers.” Examples today include President Donald Trump’s race-baiting and divisive rhetoric and Laura Ingraham of Fox News’ 2018 comments directed at Lebron James to “shut up and dribble”.
Lastly, the ’68 protest remains relevant today because there is still this notion that athletes have a specific role in our society and that is to entertain. We do not expect them to have voices—political, social, or cultural—we expect them to be monolithic. In this sense, the behavior of President Donald Trump is reminiscent to that of IOC (International Olympic Committee) Commissioner Avery Brundage.
Both men sought to commandeer and redefine the protest narratives of the athletes protesting during their respective eras. Through public discourse, Brundage and Trump sought to convince the world that Black males discussing current events was an attack on the morals of the country and somehow antithetical to American patriotism.
Black Coffy: What are the three lessons from the protest that are still relevant today?
- YOUR VOICE MATTERS! Don’t allow fear to rob you of the necessary courage that is needed to use the platform that you’ve been given.
- Sports protests can change the world, public opinion, and public perception.
- History contains a wealth of knowledge about strategies for relief from oppression. Listen to the elders!
Black Coffy: Where can people learn more about the book and obtain a copy?
Dr. Posley: Readers can obtain copies via my website: www.drclydeposley.com or on Amazon. They can also stay connected via Facebook: Dr. Clyde Posley Jr/Facebook.
Black Coffy: Thank you Dr. Posley for your time and for sharing this information with our readers.