The Prominence and Impact of Black Athletes in the 1960s and 1970s

Topics: 1960S

1960’s and 1970’s – Black Athletes

Black athletes during the 1960’s and 1970’s very much helped to advance the cause of integration for all. Just like the blacks before them, and the blacks that followed. Each individual in some way shape or form, no matter how big or small the contribution helped. Activist or not, the bottom line is the common factor that being a black and successful athlete proving to the world blacks can not only be successful in sports, but they also have the capabilities of being successful in other aspects of life.

The athletes of the times of “use and abuse” had one common goal, to better themselves through the use of sport. With this use of sport as a way out, they each proved to the world that even through the harshest pain and suffering, black athletes could still over come the ‘white’ man.

An incredible amount of prominent black athletes all came about during the 1960’s 1970’s era.

First we have Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the famous American sprinters, who wore black gloves on the Olympic medal stand to represent the ‘Black Power’ movement. This was there way to protest unfair treatment of black athletes and coaches. On the woman’s side, there was Wilma Rudolph and Wyomia Tyus who ‘wowed the world by winning international praise for African Americans in track. On the boxing front, the infamous Muhammad Ali, not only famous for his dominance in the ring but the stance he took with the United States Government.

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Ali refused to be inducted into the armed services and fight in Vietnam because he believed that the war at hand was hypocritical to the problems in America regarding race and equality. If he could not be free in his own country, why in the world would he risk his life to fight for liberation in a land afar? Ali knew that America needed to fix its issues first at home, before moving into other countries.

Moving into the 1970’s we have Jim Brown, an all-star running back as well as social activist and Hollywood hero and then there is also11-time NBA champion Bill Russell. The previous two were “open, honest critics of life in America” while Arthur Ashe, an international tennis star, took human rights to an “international stage” (Garber). Baseball outfielder Curt Flood also challenged Major League Baseball’s free agency system against the reserve clause. This clause bound individual players to their teams even after the end of their contracts. There are many more black athletes during this time period to give credit too, but most of these events were defining moments for both race and sport.

Black athletes back in the 1960’s and 1970’s were more concerned with the world around them, not just their place in the world (Garber). Each one’s fame from sport helped them to achieve social goals, and make white America realize that blacks can do just as well at anything in life. The 1960’s and 1970’s seems to be the middle ground/stand still between ‘acknowledgement and acceptance’. Black athletes were finally being noticed because of their talent, although many athletes around this time wouldn’t all turn out to be success stories. It was however; the building blocks to the foundation black athletes have today. Everything must start somewhere, and for the athletes of the 1960’s and 70’s this was the final push needed for something greater to come, acceptance. The whites may have “used and abused” different black athletes, only for their talent, on college and professional teams. But this was needed to happen, for the ‘white boss’ would never come to realize the other capabilities blacks possess outside of sports. Blacks are humans too, just a different color. It took sports and a little help from numerous black athletes to prove this to white America, and to move everyone forward towards progressing to the full acceptance and equality of all blacks.

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The Prominence and Impact of Black Athletes in the 1960s and 1970s. (2021, Dec 25). Retrieved from

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