History Department
History Department

Peniel Joseph and Shaka Smart on Sports, Democracy

Sun, April 16, 2017
Peniel Joseph and Shaka Smart on Sports, Democracy
Prof. Peniel Joseph and Coach Shaka Smart

Article originally appeared on the LBJ School of Public Affairs web site.

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.

Smart and LBJ/History professor Peniel Joseph, founding director of the CSRD, explored the intersection between sports and politics, examining how athletes of color navigate the challenging terrain of responsibility, identity and political expression.

“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, from 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.  

“After Colin Kaepernick's refusal to stand for the national anthem, the role of athletes in speaking out has become an important issue again,” said Paul Kuhne, a student associate at CSRD (MGPS ’18).

But 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 talked about 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.”

Kuhne echoed Smart’s statement, referencing athletes’ position to make a difference. “As we enter into a tumultuous few years, with policies that will likely negatively affect communities of color, athletes can be some of the most prominent advocates for more equitable and just legislation.”

The event, which occurred at the LBJ School, drew nearly a hundred people from across the university and larger Austin community, including LBJ students and alumni.

Coach Smart, who earned a B.A. in History at Kenyon College and an M.A. in Social Studies at California University of Pennsylvania, was the Keynote Speaker at UT History's Convocation last year. He became the 24th head basketball coach at The University of Texas on April 3, 2015.  Coach Smart previously coached basketball at VCU where he led the Rams to its first CBI Championship. As a college athlete, Smart played basketball for Kenyon College and graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in History.
Dr. Peniel E. Joseph is the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy's Founding Director, the Barbara Jordan Chair in Ethics and Political Values at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, and he holds a joint professorship appointment at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and the History Department in the College of Liberal Arts at The University of Texas at Austin. Prior to joining the UT faculty, Dr. Joseph was a professor at Tufts University, where he founded the school’s Center for the Study of Race and Democracy to promote engaged research and scholarship focused on the ways issues of race and democracy affect people’s lives.

About the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy: The CSRD is dedicated to offering programming and events that expand the dialogue on race, identity, civil rights and social justice. The Center promotes engaged research and scholarship on the ways in which race, democracy and public policy impact the lives of global citizens. For more, contact the CSRD at csrd@austin.utexas.edu, or visit their website at https://csrd.lbj.utexas.edu/.

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