other women athletes standing up and protesting?
Importance of Historical Context
Among the images that went viral on the internet of Derrick Rose, LeBron James, Reggie Bush and others in the now iconic Black, “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts, the gesture that stood out to me were captured in images of Taya Reimer and her teammates of the Notre Dame women’s basketball team during pregame warmup— according to some, the first women’s basketball team to wear the make the statement (followed by the Cal women’s team). It is certainly admirable for young people, who are often accused of civic apathy, to demonstrate support of those families who have lost their loved ones to the rogue tactics engaged by far too many law enforcement officials who bring about the end of too many Black lives. Young and old. Male and female. Young women like Reimer have fathers, brothers, uncles and cousins who have been disproportionately targeted. But the image of a woman wearing the Black tee brought to mind the question of question of activism among female Black athletes. This image not what we come to see or expect, women using their voices. Iconic images are male dominated before. The scene of young ladies from Notre Dame emerging from the tunnel in onto the hardwood in the Joyce Center reminded of a conversation I’d had just two weeks before, with Civil Rights pioneer Dr. Harry Edwards: architect of the 1968 Olympics boycott, consultant to numerous professional athletic organizations, and Professor Emeritus at University of Southern California. “I’ll say one last thing,” Dr. Edwards said before we got off of the phone, “The number one human rights issue in American society today is the set of circumstances and outcomes of women and girls. And the thing I’m more disappointed in the realm of stepping up and speaking out, than anything else is the fact that I see no large organized group of women athletes standing up and protesting .” The women of Notre Dame had certainly challenged Dr. Edwards’s assertion. But I wondered where are the
You don’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been. There is a disturbing lack of knowledge that young people in general today have of the impact of the past on the present. This disconnect has had detrimental impact on state of Black people in our country today, but I digress. I have witnessed the enlightenment that one of my own students at Indiana University, some of whom played football for the school experienced over the course of the 8 weeks I had with them. I learned from my students what I had already believed in: the power of the awareness of history. In the class I developed and currently teach at IU, The Black Male College Experience, I provide my students with the historical foundation required to understand the state of the Black male athletes today. They learn about William Henry Lewis from Harvard to Ozzie Simmons from University of Iowa. By the end of the class the athletes in the class admitted their new perspectives about the history of Black athletes was empowering We can’t blame Reimer and others for not knowing the history of women athletes before her, like Wilma Rudolph, who used her influence to affect change. After the Black Pearl proved herself to be the “fastest woman in the world” at the 1960 Olympics, staunch segregationist Tennessee Governor Buford, planned a parade and banquet in her honor. Rudolph protested the event and refused to attend the celebration because it would be segregated; her protest led to the first integrated event in Clarksville, TN. She was subsequently active in protests in the city until the segregation laws were struck down. Later in life, Rudolph worked at DePaw University in Greencastle, Indiana to help recruit African Americans to the school.