Sports: Leveling the Playing Field explores the contributions of athletes, both on and off the field. Some athletes have been symbolic figures of black ability, while others have taken their activism beyond the court to the courtroom, boardroom and the newsroom.
Because sports were among the first, and most high profile spaces to accept African Americans on relative terms of equality, sport has had a unique role within American culture. Within black communities, sports have always been political. From the refusal to allow African Americans an opportunity to compete to the formation of African American segregated sporting teams and leagues; from the hard won battles to compete at the highest levels of the game to the introduction of African American expressive cultural practices within the games, the African American presence in sports has had social and political consequences.
Journey Through the Exhibition
Sports matter beyond the playing field. This exhibition demonstrates the centrality of African American contributions and challenges to contemporary American culture and politics. African Americans created their own sports institutions, most notably the Negro Leagues, during the era of segregation. The exhibition examines the impact of these institutions as well as the integration of African American sports figures into all-white leagues.
At times, sports leads social change. Other times, sports stymies social change. Sports: Leveling the Playing Field continues the chronological exploration of African American activism and the quest for justice and equality begun in the exhibitions on slavery and segregation through the participation of African Americans in sports.
Sports are a way to measure racial progress within the United States. The exhibition encourages visitors to think about ways they can help make America a more just and equitable place by providing historical context for honest discussions about race and social justice.
A Closer Look
Legacy of a Moment
John Carlos, Olympic Bronze Medalist and Damion Thomas, Curator of Sports, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture join The Atlantic's Jemele Hill for a conversation looking at the legacy of a moment.
Breaking Barriers: The Mohawk Giants
Dr. Raymond Doswell, Vice President and Curator of the Negro League's Baseball Museum and President of the Negro League's Baseball Museum, Bob Kendrick note that without the perseverance and fortitude of the Negro League players there would not have been an outlet for Jackie Robinson to become a professional athlete.