Athletes are one of the most unique kinds of celebrities. We spend so much time watching them, but far less time listening to them. Where actors, singers, authors and others are recognized for their distinct voices and performances, athletes are often placed on our icon lists for physical triumphs.
Here is a list of athletes who not only found their voices, but used them to push forward civil rights, feminism, and other important social discussions. These are stories that definitely need to be heard.
Muhammad Ali vs. the United States of America, 1966-1971
At his core, Muhammad Ali was a boxer, and not just any boxer, but an iconic one. His name (the one he chose for himself, not his given one) has household recognition as an athlete who represents strength, skill, and true fame. But what many people don’t realize about Ali’s story is that what happened outside of the ring is most important. Montville’s book details the period of Ali’s life that was full of fights – legal ones – that were very much a part of the political and civil rights discussions happening in the late ‘60s. The amount of information you never knew about such a public personality may shock you, and it will definitely fascinate you.
American Passion and Defiance in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics
While we all recognize the image of Tommie Smith and John Carlos with their fists in the air, the whole story behind the tempestuous spirit of the 1968 Olympics is even more gripping. The Olympics can often highlight issues of the moment in a way no other can (as we’ve seen in recent history, the event itself can even be one of the issues) and 1968 was no exception. It was a platform for expression, a place for social politics to finally be addressed with all the world watching. Hoffer’s Something in the Air covers that remarkable time in history, when sports, politics, and national pride mixed, fought and proved to always be a complicated package.
Billie Jean King and the Revolution in Women’s Sports
Sports might ultimately be about playing games, but the truth is they are often the gateway to furthering true social discussion. Billie Jean King’s famous “Battle of the Sexes” face-off with Bobby Riggs (recently made into a film starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell) helped finally turn heads towards women in sports, and King was at the epicenter of it all. Ware takes King’s story and brings it into an even larger perspective on feminism, connecting it to Title IX. Within this framework, it’s a different way to explore King’s story, and will give you a bigger picture than the movie ever would.
Robinson’s name will forever be synonymous with civil rights, baseball, and talent. The bio tells as much of Robinson’s full story as it can, with special moments speaking to the frightening dynamics he fought through to be part of the sport he loved to play, his achievements in both that sport and being a trail-blazer, and his life outside of baseball, where he was part of the larger conversation related to civil rights. Rampersad’s biography about the icon is untouchable as far as personal access: He was chosen by Robinson’s wife to write the book; and offers letters and memories that allow Robinson’s own voice shine through the pages.
Curt Flood's Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports
It would be easy to think Flood’s battle for free agency only mattered within sports circles, but Snyder’s carefully constructed story about the lawsuit that eventually became a Supreme Court case shows the other elements at play. There is quite a bit of legal focus here, but it’s an eye-opening story that most readers – even avid sports fans – won’t know everything about. Flood paved the way for so many after him; and proves that putting your own reputation and career at risk is sometimes the only way to make progress.
Last Man Standing
One of the most renowned football players to ever get in the game, Brown is also an incredibly controversial figure. Brown’s fame went beyond the NFL when he entered the world of Hollywood, and again as he became a civil-rights activist, but Zirin’s book, asks his readers to go beyond the Hall of Fame facts. Last Man Standing offers a look at the darker side of Brown’s reputation as well, the hyper-masculinity and accusations of abuse that are so topical for today. Zirin asks questions of his subject’s behavior that many biographies leave out, making it a layered and compelling story about both a man’s triumphs and faults.