More Than A Wheaties Box
As a child, the first Black Olympic hero I learned about was Jesse Owens. He defeated the so-called master race in ‘36 but came home to be treated as if he had lost the race.
As I consider the debate about Simone Biles and other athletes, I need to ask how that has changed for myriad other athletes?
For instance Jackie Robinson’s brother Mack Robinson who ran fast enough to break the Olympics record in the 200 meters but still finished behind Owens, spent his days as a street cleaner in Los Angeles.
Well, you say times have changed since 1936.
But in 1968, Tommie Smith and Carlos Evans ran fast enough to be seen by the whole world in Mexico City — but how many endorsements or other lucrative offers did they get? Was it controversy or was it a pattern of indifference and abuse?
The Olympics has never fully rewarded Black athletes for their contributions. Only those who made it to the pros or came from professional athletics already received real recognition.
Yes. Try to show a picture of Bob Beamon or Wilma Rudolph to those on the street today and they will be thoroughly mystified.
The American Olympics movement has simply not made adequate progress since those early days when Black and Native American athletes like Jim Thorpe were momentarily cheered but quickly snubbed and repudiated.
Perhaps, the Asian and African American athletes of today sense this and now have the courage to decline to chase medals. Perhaps, they know this will not be enough to give them fulfillment in a culture of disposable fame and prestige, especially for athletes of color.
Perhaps, this is what Simone Biles understands.
Perhaps after all these decades of outperforming their peers, they have decided a Wheaties box is simply not enough.
-Albert Turner Goins