WILLIAM C. RHODEN DISCUSSING BLACK ATHLETES DURING A RECENT JOURNALISTS ROUNDTABLE IN WASHINGTON, D.C.
By: Richard Prince, “Journal-isms”
Sports and political commentators might be debating San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem, but what might be most remarkable is the change in climate that permits Kaepernick to make his protest without penalty.
That’s the view of William C. Rhoden, who wrote his final column for the New York Times last month after nearly 35 years there, 26 of them writing the “Sports of The Times” column.
In an appearance before the Journalists Roundtable in Washington recently and with host Michel Martin on NPR’s “All Things Considered” immediately afterward, Rhoden recalled what befell black athletes who took political stands in earlier decades.
Martin observed, “In 1967, Muhammad Ali refused to be drafted. In 1968, Tommie Smith and John Carlos celebrated winning gold and bronze medals at the ’68 Mexico City Games with a silent protest on the victory stand. What were the consequences that they faced?”
“Well, for Ali, first of all, he lost his title,” Rhoden replied. “He lost his belt. He lost his source of income. . . . Curt Flood will never get into the Hall of Fame for standing up against Major League Baseball, never.
“MARTIN: He refused to trade in 1969.
“RHODEN: Yeah. In ’69, he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, and he said I’m not going. I’m not a piece of meat to be traded.
“MARTIN: Tommie Smith and Carlos…
“RHODEN: Tommie Smith and Carlos couldn’t find work, were demonized. You know, John Carlos’ wife — there was so much pressure. I mean, she committed suicide. There were other things, but it was so much pressure. Tommie Smith couldn’t find work. And again, they were demonized. . . .”
Rhoden told the roundtable, “protests have become chic. You protest within this box.” He told Facebook and Twitter followers earlier in the day, “Athletic Protest is ok as long as [it’s] validated by the (white) powers that be…step outside that box, and out come the fangs of racism.”
Athletes have begun to realize their power and to lose their fear, said Rhoden, whose “Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete,” was published in 2006. “I think with a lot of guys what started happening is that money began to weaken them because they were so afraid of losing it and having stuff taken away,” he told Martin.
“And I think that when they began studying the lives of Ali and Curt Flood and these people looked back, they saw that, wow, you know, this actually empowered them. It actually strengthened them. It actually is why we’re talking about them years later. . . .”
As for management’s view, the “NFL is made up almost by 78, 79 percent African-American men. That’s the league. The NBA almost high — like 87 percent African-American men. So . . . you better tread lightly on this stuff because these are the guys that make your league. . . .”
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