New webpage and collection at Smithsonian celebrate Black athletes’ activism
‘Athletes’ activism is at its height when it is connected to a larger social movement’
On Thursday, the National Museum of African American History and Culture launched a new webpage and collection dedicated to celebrating the activism of Black athletes. The same athletes who were chastised and told to “shut up and dribble” are now going to be immortalized as a part of the Smithsonian and chronicled in the story of America.
The museum aims to give a perspective on why and when Black athletes feel the need to take a stance, and how the outside world plays a role in demanding that stance be taken. It emphasizes not just the athletes themselves, but also the political and social climate that surrounds them. The first article on the webpage puts into perspective how much the Milwaukee Bucks were risking when they protested by not playing an NBA playoff game recently.
“Athletes’ activism is at its height when it is connected to a larger social movement,” said Damion Thomas, the museum’s curator of sports. “Athletes are at their best when they are able to take a conversation that is localized and help nationalize the conversation in a way that Americans and other people can’t ignore.”
Thomas emphasized how the Black Lives Matter movement has raised the awareness of athletes and empowered them to protest alongside community leaders. Similarly, the civil rights movement contained pivotal moments from athletes such as Bill Russell, Jim Brown and Muhammad Ali in the 1960s.
While the focus is on athlete activism, Thomas noted that athletes who didn’t protest have managed to create an impact off the court. Athletes of the ’80s and ’90s received some criticism for not going out to protest and stand up against racism, but as Thomas puts it, they just fought in their own way.
“We have opened these doors, and the goal of someone like Michael Jordan and his generation is to walk through all of those doors and progress as much as possible,” Thomas said. “It is not a protest generation. It is a generation of accomplishment. How do we walk through these doors and keep them open so others can walk behind us?”