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Typologies of black sports figures in the western world and its applicability to other relationships

Filed under: Sports |
Jack Johnson

Jack Johnson

By Dr. Munyonzwe Hamalengwa

When the Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers Baseball team drafted Jackie Robinson to be the first Black Baseball player in Major League Sports (MLS) in the US, he said that he wanted ” a ball player who had guts enough not to fight back” at racist taunts and racial discrimination.  He wanted a passive Black Player who was equivalent to a “house nigger” or an Uncle Tom. The white man to this day does not relate well, in fact gets all riled up, when he encounters what he calls an “uppity nigger”, or a self respecting and intelligent Black man.

There have been very severe negative consequences for a Black man in the United States and in the colonies who did not have “guts enough not to fight back”. They fought back.  Think of Steve Biko in Apartheid South Africa, Malcolm X in the United States and elsewhere.

But the Black athlete who did not have guts not to fight back was most feared because he was present and visible and kids looked up to him. He was a hero. The true paradigm of a Black man who did not have guts enough not to resist fighting racism and unequal treatment was Jack Johnson, the first Black heavy weight champion of the world.

Johnson was a true original, all the future athletes like Muhammad Ali and Floyd Mayweather Jr. were simply imitators.  Johnson asserted an individualism so extreme but it fitted the American assertion of the pursuit of happiness and living the American Dream whatever that is. To that end, Johnson asserted an actually affable albeit extreme demand for equal treatment and to be left alone to enjoy his success. He publicly flaunted his wealth  just like Mayweather did in the last decade going backwards from 2016.

The white man schemed to make Johnson pay for his display of Black uppityness  and demand for equal treatment under the law. He was set up and wrongfully convicted. The white man will always try to humiliate an intelligent Black man who is self- aware. The white man wants a dumb Black man to this day.

muhammad ali

Muhammad Ali

One of President Obama’s failures as a President was his failure to take up Senator John McCain’s bill to have Jack Johnson’s criminal conviction erased and pardoned posthumously. Obama hopefully may yet do it.

When Joe Louis came along as a most devastating next Black Heavy Champion of the World, the white world did not want another Jack Johnson. They humbled him to the extent that when you see Louis’s old pictures and demeanour, he looked lifeless. It was like he had no spirit. Johnson used to taunt his opponents, glare at them and talk to people around the ring while fighting in the ring and used to dance around happily after demolishing a white opponent. Joe Louis was made to be an obedient servant, he was made to show no emotion at all, no personal or racial pride. He looked like a caricature.

Despite Joe Louis’s obedience, Uncle Sam still humiliated him by sending him into the arm to shadow-box in a segregated platoon during the Second World War and to demand that Joe Louis pay income tax that he reportedly did not owe. Joe Louis was never protected by the system that he had served so well but that had used him so much until he died as a poor man.

The system then began to work on Jackie Robinson. 0ne could only detect the success of the white man’s work on Robinson if you listen to his criticism of Muhammad Ali’s refusal to fight in Vietnam. Robinson was incensed that Ali did not want to fight  for the system that allegedly served Ali so well. Not the other way round. Ali brought pride to the US by winning a Gold medal in the 1960 Rome Olympics.

We all know how the system went out of it’s way to try to destroy the uppity Nigger in Muhammad Ali, the heir to the spirit of Jack Johnson. The system saddled Muhammad Ali with a criminal conviction. Like Johnson, Ali was a fighter both in and outside the ring and in the court of public opinion.

The system failed to tame Ali the way they tamed Joe Louis and Jesse Owens, an icon of the 1936 Nuremberg Olympics where he won four Olympic Gold medals in front of racist Adolph Hitler. Owens gave the US pride despite their humiliating him when he came back home with the medals. Down the road, Uncle Sam started demanding that Owens pay income taxes, a humiliation. He died a pauper, without the cares of the system. Jack Robinson died very young at 53 so we don’t know what would have happened to him if he had lived long enough.


Floyd Mayweather Jr

Muhammad Ali presented the greatest shock to the white system by his braggadocio. He dethroned another Uncle Tom named Sonny Liston. The white man wanted Sonny Liston to wipe out this talkative and proud Blackman from the face of the earth.

When the White system temporarily silenced Ali, they created Joe Frazier and later George Foreman. But Ali came back to haunt them in the seventies.  He now belongs to the ages, the greatest sports hero to the entire world, a sports icon.

There was silence in the boxing world in relation to an uppity Black champion until Mayweather came along in the late 2000s to resurrect the spirit of Jack Johnson and Muhammad Ali. Mayweather became the most hated Black athlete in white America in decades. He wanted to do things his way and live life his way. But you cannot suppress what is universally good and Mayweather like Johnson and Ali before him, survived intact.

With Mayweather’s retirement from boxing undefeated, I will personally miss a Black man who did not have guts enough not to fight the white man. In my view Johnson, Ali and Mayweather will go down in history as having pushed boxing to the stratosphere because they had guts enough to resist the white man and to insist that the constitution which promises equal application and equal benefit, and the pursuit of happiness, applies to all without discrimination based on race.

Dr. Munyonzwe Hamalengwa is a great fan of boxing and track and field  sports.


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