Everyone's all-Americans: race, men's college athletics, and the ideal of equal opportunity Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Kaliss, Gregory John
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History
  • Reactions to the integration of college sports provide a unique perspective on shifting attitudes toward race, manliness, equality, and the quest for civil rights. As previously-white institutions of higher learning gradually (and grudgingly) opened their playing fields to African-American athletes in men’s basketball and football, black and white spectators interpreted mixed-race team sports in often contradictory ways. This dissertation analyzes the public discourse that surrounded five black male pioneer athletes at predominantly white schools. It reveals the anxieties, hopes, frustrations, and triumphs of ordinary Americans on both sides of the color line as they encountered new public representations of black masculinity, negotiated the changing terms of racial identity, and reconsidered the American ideal of equal opportunity. Although often relegated to the realms of entertainment and leisure, college sports were central to discussions of fairness and equality in American life, as observers consistently employed sports metaphors, such as the level playing field, to discuss the ideal of equal opportunity. Just as countless Americans debated, and continue to debate, policies such as affirmative action, differing expectations of sports as a model for society revealed the tensions that underlay the significant changes in the nation’s racial politics. The range of these diverse reactions can be seen in the project’s five case studies: Paul Robeson at Rutgers College, 1915-19; the 1939 University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) football team; Wilt Chamberlain at the University of Kansas, 1955-58; Charlie Scott at the University of North Carolina (UNC), 1966-70; and the integration of football at the University of Alabama, 1969-73.
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  • Kasson, John F.
  • Open access

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