Black Athletes and the Black Community


An analysis of the history of black athletes in the US shows that their place on a team and in individual sports has changed over time. Blackman investigates discussions about the black community and developments that happened during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The author shows how people’s perceptions of black athleticism changed from being viewed as a disruption to the original goal of the community to being a respected and highlighted part of integration (46).

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However, it remains unclear to what extent the achievements of black sportspersons improved race relations between black and white Americans. Indeed, it could be argued that the cultivation of athletes was seen as a barrier to black institutions’ original goal of uplifting the community through the establishment of character. Currently, the aims of black athleticism are similar in some ways, with teams having both black and white competitors, but different in others since political conflicts often disrupt the support for black people.

The Cultivation of Black Athletes

Historically, the cultivation of black athletes was seen by many activists as a possible way of highlighting equal opportunities for black and white people. Blackman provides a strong example of black professionals gaining recognition and changing the tide of nationalist views in light of the success of Louis and Owens, who competed in the US and internationally in the 1930s (56). In fact, many black schools were urged to foster similar talent after these two athletes gained widespread recognition.

The historical role of such sportspersons may not be as prominent today, however. According to Blackman, the major shift to respecting black athletes happened during national tensions and in facing the danger of war against another country. In the 1930s, Germany had a strong ideology that endangered American freedom and values directly, which can be seen to have prompted the American public to seek unity.

In contrast, current sports teams have many people of color, as athletics is more based on purchasing and exchanging players. Black competitors still represent their community to an extent, but their professional value is not as firmly based on their presumed ability to stand equal with white people. Moreover, the cultivation of athletes in the early 1900s was based on principles of masculinity, which could also be seen as a response to war-related anxieties (Blackman 54).

It is unclear whether the same sentiments could be applied to modern times, as the political position of the black population is more discussed now than it was before. At the beginning of the 20th century, black athletes could serve as a template for integration into society. Now, the integration process is not as relevant as the demand for equality is not as dependent on one’s physical abilities but is more a political stance.

The Accomplishments of Black Athletes and Race Relations

It is clear that black athletes’ performance increased the public’s positive view of them participating in competitions, and their wins affected the overall acceptance of black people as citizens of the country. The above-mentioned political improvement, which happened before World War II, cannot be ignored; black athletes became accepted as Americans realized that the country needed to unite defeat their enemies (Blackman 57).

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In this context, race relations improved under pressure, and black communities could feel that their role in the country was changing. Nevertheless, one should point out that black athletes, despite their accomplishments, were still subjected to racist descriptions. Louis, although being recognized as one of the most significant boxers of his time, was often “characterized… as an ape,” implying that his prowess and skill could not be solely linked to professionalism or talent (Blackman 54). Other biological interpretations depicted black people as having primal instincts, further separating them from white individuals on the grounds of character. Racism tainted the excellence of black athletes and reduced their efforts in improving relations within the community.

The Mission of Black Institutions

The strategy of shaping athletes raised some concerns among black institutions that feared a decrease in people’s attention to the cultivation of moral character. Before the popularization of sports, black communities believed that they could integrate into white settings by proving that they possessed personal characteristics similar to those of white people (Blackman 48). This notion was challenged by the development of masculinity as a uniting trait for all communities. Thus, educational organizations could not determine which of the aims should be focused on in order to increase the success of their integration goals.

The approach of highlighting sports could both complement and disrupt the institutions’ efforts. On the one hand, students who participated in athletics and achieved results could gain greater recognition, thus increasing the wider recognition of black communities as inherent to American society. On the other hand, the competitive environment of sports led to discussions about black people’s possible differences in bone structure or other racist explanations of black athletes’ strength.


The influence of black athletes in raising the recognition of their communities as citizens of the US was substantial in the early 20th century. Nonetheless, it is vital to remember that the period under discussion was also influenced by other factors, namely nationalistic views and Germany’s pressuring ideology. The success of major black athletes changed the way white audiences perceived black people. However, this view was closely tied to masculinity, potentially excluding women and children. Black athletes’ achievements were also undermined by racist beliefs, which could be rooted in biological or psychological speculations about the nature of black people.

Work Cited

Blackman, Dexter Lee. “’ The Negro Athlete and Victory’: Athletics and Athletes as Advancement Strategies in Black America, the 1890s–1930s.” Sport History Review, vol. 47, no. 1, 2016, pp. 46-68.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Black Athletes and the Black Community'. 12 June.

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