On Wednesday, April 12, the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy (CSRD) at the LBJ School hosted a Conversation on Race, Sports and Citizenship featuring UT Austin’s Men’s Head Basketball Coach Shaka Smart.
Coach Smart and CSRD Founding Director and LBJ Professor Dr. Peniel E. Joseph, explored the intersection between sports and politics. The conversation examined how athletes of color navigate the challenging terrain of responsibility, identity and political expression in the United States.
“Sports are a really important part of citizenship,” Joseph said, and “have become intrinsic to how we think of ourselves as American citizens. Sports are one of the main vehicles of how we define who we are.”
The intersection of race and sports has been widely publicized in recent months. The New Yorker published an article about the recent autobiography on NBA player and Freedom Fighter Craig Hodges. to the controversy over Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during the National Anthem.
Despite some of that recent controversy, Smart and Joseph honed in on the ways that sports can bring light to important social issues. “Team sports bring a big group of people together…around a common cause,” Smart said, citing an “inherent agreement” that exists cross-culturally in support of a team and a common goal.
Smart and Joseph discussed the ways that racial integration in sports was an important way to bring visibility to race relations in America, and over time, how athletes of all racial backgrounds became highly respected voices in popular culture. “Athletes’ status and visibility in society affords them a platform that others don’t have access to”, Smart explained. “Now what you see is sports being able to lead the way for other types of social change.”
The event drew nearly a hundred people from across the university and larger Austin community, including LBJ students and alumni, and students from local middle and high schools.