Breaking the college color barrier: Studies in courage
By now, many in sport celebrate the lives and courage of the first African-American pro athletes to break the color barriers, especially during Black History Month. Pretty much everyone knows the story of Jackie Robinson in Major League Baseball. And more and more often, we read about Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton, Earl Lloyd and Chuck Cooper in the NBA, Kenny Washington and Woody Strode in the NFL and Willie O'Ree in the NHL.Yet few have any idea about the African-American college athletes who were the pioneers. I recently wrote a book called "100 Pioneers: African-Americans Who Broke Color Barriers in Sport," and in it, I wanted to include stories about the first African-American male and female athletes in the SEC, ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and the Ivy League. When I contacted the schools in those conferences, very few could identify their first African-American female student-athlete. In several cases, they couldn't easily locate much information about the male pioneers, either. Surprisingly, many schools weren't in contact with their still-living alumni who broke those barriers. I could tell from some of the schools' responses that their pioneering African-American student-athletes had not been on their radar screens. Unlike the professional athletes -- who were older and, perhaps, more worldly when they broke their barriers -- these college students were 17 or 18 years old when they came to our institutions of higher education to face a world of all-white athletic departments and classrooms.
Richard Lapchick's new book, "100 Pioneers: African-Americans Who Broke Color Barriers in Sport," includes profiles of many of the student-athletes he chronicles in this column. Pre-order the paperback edition here.
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