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Activism in Sports and Culture

Morehouse College via Coursera


Sports have become an ever-present reflection of American culture, and an important symbol of the divisions and alliances in our society. Sports and political change walk hand in hand in America. The way that athletes and institutions deal with questions of race, economic hardship, nationalism, and political ties have become central to the way that we understand ourselves and our society. And yet, there are those who would prefer their sports free of controversy and opinion. Dedicated athletes, coaches, and media personalities have pushed back against this refrain, demanding to be seen not just as entertainers but as fully formed humans with political opinions and experiences. Their struggles against injustice have changed the face of America and kicked off a reckoning within modern-day sports.

How does context inform the shape and outcome of protests? What is it about sports that provides space — or doesn't — for political statements? Why do some of us expect athletes to be activists, when others would rather they "shut up and dribble"? We'll explore all of these questions and more in this class.

Your professor will be NBA All-Star and TNT Sports journalist and commentator Chris Webber, who leads interviews with iconic activists, including John Carlos and Jemele Hill as they wrestle with the meanings and outcomes of their activism. You'll read and watch primary source documents about acts of protest, and academic and journalistic work that reckons with the legacies of those acts. By the end of the course, you'll have a better understanding of historical and contemporary protest moments, and be able to create and apply new ways of thinking about the activism within the world of sports in history and today.


  • The Icons
    • The history of activism and sports stretches to the beginnings of athletics in America, but perhaps the most iconic moment of protest was at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. In this module, you'll learn about the men who took a stand there, the historical context of the act, and how their country and the world responded.
  • The Reluctant Protester
    • Not all acts of protest are committed by people who consider themselves activists. In this module, you'll learn about NBA Hall of Fame honoree Spencer Haywood. At 19 he was the youngest American to win a gold medal at the 1968 Olympics. At 21, he brought a lawsuit against the NBA that would forever change the game.
  • The Commentator
    • What role do journalists play in activism? Is it better to use an existing platform, or to build their own? In this module you'll witness the evolution of Jemele Hill from ESPN personality to outspoken activist.
  • The Organizer
    • This module spans the career of Dr. Harry Edwards. As a sociologist and academic, Dr. Edwards created the field of sports sociology. As an activist, he has supported and counseled athletes in their acts of protest, from the Olympic Project for Human Rights to Colin Kaepernick's protest of the National Anthem.

Taught by

Chris Webber


4.5 rating at Coursera based on 12 ratings

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