When it comes to athletics and Martin Luther King, Jr., there is not much to say about him personally; aside from an enthusiasm for pocket billiards, his sports background is not particularly eye-catching. Despite limited involvement as an individual, however, King recognized the important role that sports played (and continue to play today) in delivering lasting cultural impact and invoking change in society. Indeed, the status of sports as an instrumental component of revolution in the modern world is under-recognized. In the history of the United States, the relationship between race and sports has been nothing short of complex.
Segregation of Sports in the 20th Century
In the early-1900s, sports across America largely recognized the separation of white and black athletes. Methods and formatting varied depending on the particular sport; professional baseball commonly had leagues specifically for non-whites (these leagues, though not exclusively dominated by them, were primarily occupied by African-Americans) which operated as the ‘status quo’ well into the 1950’s. The complete, official integration of both the National Basketball League (a partial precursor to the modern NBA) and the National Football League came about before the latter half of the 20th Century. Despite decisive desegregation of sports in the United States, time remained a requirement for change, and the blending of different racial backgrounds in sports has yet been gradual. However, in 2012, the National Football League and the National Basketball Association boasted African-American athletes as the majority for each professional sport’s player base, ranking in at 66% for the NFL and 78% for the NBA. Both baseball and soccer trail behind these numbers, but not by overwhelming margins. Time will tell if racial diversity expands in professional American sports leagues.
The Role of Sports in National Unification
It is always important to acknowledge the impact sports have on a country’s cultural development. As an ever-popular source of global entertainment, the deeper details and decisions made surrounding commercialized sports have the potential to make bold and heavy-handed statements on society. Even an issue as divisive as segregation in America throughout the 20th Century, sports played a meaningful part in unifying different social backgrounds, causing it to function as a less-than-conventional platform of change. Martin Luther King recognized sports as more than societal entertainment, viewing them for the deeper purposed that they served – as another means to get through to the people of America.