The Most Misunderstood Person in American Sport History: Adolph Rupp and the Complicated Politics of Integration

Sunday, January 8, 2017: 9:40 AM
Mile High Ballroom 4B (Colorado Convention Center)
Jamal Ratchford, Colorado College
This paper, “The Most Misunderstood Person in American Sport History: Adolph Rupp and the Complicated Politics of Integration,” positions the watershed moment in 1966 when the all-black basketball team from Texas Western College defeated the all-white University of Kentucky (UK) squad – also known later as “Glory Road” – as a platform to discuss three oversights particular to intersections on race and sport history.

First, the game reinforced a legacy of institutional racism in basketball by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). The NCAA prohibited historically black colleges and universities from competing against majority white schools. The game also was a striking contradiction on race and sport specific to the symbolic value of the Texas Western team for integrated sport juxtaposed with the racial discrimination they faced on campus.

Second, HBCUs overcame racist policies in the NCAA through competition and athletic success in NAIA basketball. Despite institutional racism in American collegiate sports, black coaches and administrators struggled for integration in sport and increased opportunities for black athletes. By the late 1950s, the all-black men’s basketball team at Tennessee State University won three consecutive National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) titles against all-white competition – ten years prior to “Glory Road.”

Third, Adolph Rupp has been misconstrued as overtly racist in memory and was a complex individual on race relations in American sport. Although the UK head coach symbolically characterized racism in American sport and memory, he coached a black player at the high school level in the 1920s, coached the first black player in USA basketball history at the 1948 Olympic Games, broke the gentleman's agreement in sport, provided coaching clinics at HBCUs, and aided recruitment of a future All-American player to a predominately white school.

<< Previous Presentation | Next Presentation