Thursday, January 22, 2009

IDS: Sports Column...Sports Influence Social Change

It’s a new day in America.

Stereotypes have now been smashed; things once thought to be impossible have been given new life. American citizens have caused a big change in our country’s history, and President Barack Obama personifies everything that many Americans have dreamed of: a land of true equality and social change.

There are many important factors that led America to this point in history, but without question, one of the biggest has been sports.

If you take a look at some of the most historic moments in sports over the years, you’ll notice that progress has been constant. From USC crushing “Bear” Bryant’s Alabama team in 1970, after which Bryant began recruiting black players, to Tony Dungy becoming the first black head coach to win a Super Bowl, we’ve come a long way.

But according to Gary Sailes, an associate professor in the Kinesiology Department, we’ve still got a little ways to go.

“The last frontier for us black people as far as representation is college football,” Sailes said. “If we can elect a black president, surely we can hire more black coaches.”

This is true. While college football’s “high-ups” seem reluctant to change, every other sport has held up its end of the bargain.

Sports are so important to our nation: They can help bring us together as seen in the days and weeks after Sept. 11. They show us that once that whistle blows, it doesn’t matter what you look like or what color your skin is.

It’s all about unity and working together toward a common goal. In life and in politics, these are the things that are necessary if we are going to succeed as a nation.

“Sports is a microcosm of society,” Sailes said. “It’s nothing more than a way to showcase philosophy and the things we feel are important. We revere hard work, and everything important to us is highlighted by sports. We see our ideals represented in sports.”

The inauguration of Barack Obama has changed the way we see ourselves and whatever it is we do. He stands in the shadow of Martin Luther King Jr. as he begins to change the world, bringing us all closer for a common gain. So many of the sports figures we witness today are affected by these two iconic figures in history.

The impact of the change that has taken place and the anticipation of the change to come continues to resonate through all of us, including those sports figures we look up to.

IU women’s basketball coach, Felisha Legette-Jack, is someone who realizes the importance of the moment we’ve experienced this week and is affected by it.

“Martin Luther King Jr. gave me permission to have certain friends that I choose,” Legette-Jack said. “My best friend is on the bench with me who happens to be Caucasian, and if you look at us, we don’t look the same. But on the inside we are sisters. So with his sight being so great and the ability to know that his life was on the line to create this social change, it is our duty, it is our obligation to create that kind of atmosphere in all that you do.”

The common theme in everyone you talk to is this: If Obama, a black man, can be elected president, then I can do anything.

That’s the way we should feel. I know when Tony Dungy won the Super Bowl, I thought the same thing.

For sports to play such a role in the progress of this country is something remarkable. The fact that names like Dungy, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, John Carlos and so many more have had an impact on things like the civil rights movement and the election of our first black president is something incredible.

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