Black Gold: A Salute to Black Men in the History of Sports

The first British Colonizers to North America arrived on a land that they would name Jamestown, Virginia, on May 14, 1607, some 13 years before the arrival of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower and 12 years before the first black bodies arrived on this colonized land in North America as indentured servants. Not being British citizens, African servants weren’t subject to British Common Law and where essentially workers without rights. In 1641, slavery was legalized, reducing the status of blacks to that of chattel, personal property that could be owned for life. By 1660, Slavery had become so profitable that King Charles II of England established “The Royal African Company” to transport humans from Africa to the Americas. They called their human cargo, “Black Gold”.

In a country that has tried to reduce us to nothing more than black bodies; good only for physical labor, pleasure, and entertainment, The Quintessential Gentleman raises its fist in triumphant salute to Black men throughout the history of sports.

Black Athletes have displayed time and time again that our black bodies also have voices, and many have suffered the consequences of daring to speak up and out for the communities that they come from. From Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali to Lebron James and Colin Kaepernick, black men throughout the history of sports have been living embodiments and shining examples of what it means to be black gold in America. Black gold is traded and profited from but never allowed to shine. “Shut up and dribble” is what Lebron James was told in 2018 for having a voice. Black gold is meant to be seen and never heard; expensive statement pieces without a statement. Ornamental. Black gold, to be adorn and treated like a precious collection of jewels — to its owners.

With gloved fists raised and heads bowed, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, humbly accepted their Olympic gold and bronze medals for the 200-meter dash, sending a clear message of black power in protest to their country and team, U-S-A. The date was October 16, 1968, 6 months after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The two were immediately suspended from the Olympic team, lost their careers overnight, and returned home to death threats. Though elevated on an Olympic podium, representing American victory and excellence, these two heroes opted out of the opportunity to bask in false glory and adoration, posed as yet another jewel on America’s crown, and instead chose to be silent truth bearers. With no word uttered, Tommie Smith and John Carlos sent a message louder than the roar of the Olympic crowd. A Silent but deafening —“Black Power”.

Though denounced and unappreciated by mainstream America, photographs of this triumphant moment of defiance turned these vilified victors of America, into iconic heroes within the black community. Statues, murals, films and countless other works recapturing this moment are scattered throughout this country’s black communities. 50 years later, this silent protest during the National Anthem proved itself to be iconic in this generation, with many black athletes engaging in various forms of silent protest during the anthem; most notably, taking a knee; spearheaded by former 49er quarterback, Colin Kaepernick. Sadly, and all too true to its original narrative, we find Kaepernick in an all to a familiar position, hated by his country, NFL career over, on the receiving end of countless death threats, but celebrated by his people. Black gold is thrown aside for using its mind. Never mind speaking it. Gold is precious because it never tarnishes but when you’re black gold that only means things never really change.