In Conversation: Biography and the Black Athlete

By Yesenia Flores Diaz

To kick off day three of the 38th Annual KWLS Reading Between the Lines: Sports and Literature, Kevin Young and Arnold Rampersad discussed the history of black sportsmanship in a thought-provoking session entitled: “In Conversation: Biography and the Black Athlete.”

According to Young, childhood hero Arthur Ashe was “the first athlete who existed as a person.” Despite a privileged life and the irony of his nationally-ranked status and exclusion from a local tourney, Rampersad affirmed Ashe had a “desire to be taken seriously, [he] prized the intellectual side of life, [was] a noble person who believed in spirit.”

Attendees were offered poignant glimpses of the experiences, triumphs and villification, notwithstanding, of 20th century greats such as: Jackie Robinson, Wilma Rudolph, Jack Johnson, Muhammad Ali, Althea Gibson, and sisters Venus and Serena Williams.

One cannot ignore how these black athletes in particular have dealt with “the jagged edge of circumstances,” to rise above controversy and go beyond the call of duty with audaciousness, dignity, grace, and humor.

Young questioned whether it was possible to “play sports and protest at the same time,” like free-agent QB Colin Kaepernick. This garnered an immediate response from Rampersad who said that for black athletes, their “presence is a signal of protest.”

This session challenged us to think critically about black athletes and their personas as well as unrealistic expectations and pressures to “educate and uplift a nation”–a nation that has often rejected their humanity and proclaimed “game over” when they’ve deliberately crossed a line and strayed out of bounds.

Yesenia Flores Díaz is a 2020 Teacher and Librarian Scholar who credits her parents and elementary school librarian for cultivating an early love for reading. She is an English Composition Assistant with Montgomery County Public Schools and a firm believer that sports, like books, should be accessible to all. 

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