Book review: The Heritage by Howard Bryant

The subtitle of this excellent new book by sportswriter Howard Bryan pretty much says what it is all about: Black athletes, a divided America, and the politics of patriotism. I am not a huge fan of American professional sports (as regular readers know, cricket is my thing) but this book is not about sports but the politics of sports, especially as it relates to the role that black athletes have played in advancing social justice. The book provides a much needed historical context for the recent movement started by Colin Kaepernick to kneel during the playing of the national anthem to protest police brutality and social injustice. Bryant writes with anger and passion about the way that so many major black athletes have shirked the responsibility that they were entrusted with by their predecessors to use their celebrity power improve the conditions of the black community and fight police brutality and injustice.
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Colin Kaepernick and The Heritage on the upswing

Yesterday was the opening day of this year’s football season. Football player Colin Kaepernick has become the initiator of a revival of ‘The Heritage’, the tradition dating back to Paul Robeson and Jackie Robinson of successful black athletes using their visibility to make political statements against racial injustice. This proud tradition had been undermined by people like O. J. Simpson, Michael Jordan, and Tiger Woods who decided that money was the most important thing for them and eschewed any words or actions that might alienate anyone. This sent the Heritage into a long period of dormancy.
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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar also picks up the baton of The Heritage

In my series of posts about Howard Bryant’s book The Heritage, I discussed the book’s thesis of how the responsibility of successful black athletes to speak out on issues of injustice that was started by Paul Robeson, and carried on by Jackie Robinson, John Carlos, Tommie Smith, and Muhammad Ali, went into decline with the arrival of extremely successful athletes like OJ Simpson, Michael Jordan, and Tiger Woods who wanted to do nothing that would endanger their lucrative corporate endorsements.
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The military-sports complex in all its glory

It is routine to see overt and ostentatious displays of patriotism at sporting events in the US. Of course, these days ‘patriotism’ means symbolic acts like singing the national anthem and God Bless America, praising the military and the police forces by having them involved in ceremonies such as hauling out a massive American flag onto the field, military flyovers, the cameras panning to service members in the crowds and thanking them for their service, and even reunions where service members returning from one of the many never-ending wars are shown meeting their family members at the game.
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The complex political legacy of Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson is known mainly for the fact that he was the first black baseball player in the major leagues. He was an anti-Communist and thus he was persuaded to speak against Paul Robeson before HUAC, the House Un-American Activities Committee, but he knew that he was being used as a pawn by the white power structure. While that appearance tarnished his image and resulted in him being called an Uncle Tom and an Oreo, largely forgotten is the fact that the rest of his life was devoted to advancing the cause of black athletes and breaking down color barriers and pushing for integration in every aspect of society. And his actions have reverberated down to this day.
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Politics, professional sports, and racism

The put-down of ‘shut up and play’ and ‘stick to sports’ has been used to try and silence athletes, especially black ones, who have taken stands against police brutality and other forms of injustice. In his excellent book The Heritage about black athletes and politics that I reviewed earlier, Howard Bryant writes about how this has always been the case against any black athletes who dared to take a political stand that was not submissive to white power.
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