WNC Considering Race as A Factor to Deny Black Coach Discussion

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First, view THIS short video to learn the brief story of Oberlin College Athletics. 

In the 1970s, they embarked on a series of changes there that impacted the sports world as a whole. 

Remember Zirin’s maxim: “sports and politics don’t mix.” Think about this as you watch the video, and more so as you begin your writing for the week. 

For your initial discussion post, let’s dig into this question: 

What significance does Oberlin hold in the world of college sports? Use at least one specific person from the story to illustrate the historical significance of their program and their approach to sports in the higher education context. 

Then, as always, reply to two classmates’ posts as well.  


Oberlin College holds significance in the world of college sports because, under the guidance of athletic director Jack Scott, the university embraced a completely new approach to college athletics. Scott believed, as Zirin quotes in his book, that sports should “be run in a democratic manner and all of those involved should have a say… in order to serve properly each group of athletes” (Zirin, 197). In an attempt to obtain this goal, the students on the football team were granted significant power in the hiring process for a new head coach. In the interview, Scott and Oberlin President Robert Vola made it clear that the students did not have an absolute say over the hire but instead retained “shared responsibility and shared authority”(4:23) with the institution. The students exercised their newly granted influence by interviewing coaching candidates as a team and then reporting their thoughts and favorite candidate to be considered by the university faculty. This new approach to college athletics differed significantly from what Jack Scott described as “static, authoritarian, tradition-bound athletic programs…”(Zirin, 197), where power was centralized under University faculty and the students themselves exercised little to no authority over team affairs.

Oberlin also made its mark on history with who it hired. Utilizing the new process that granted students a greater say in their team’s affairs, Oberlin hired an African American head coach, Cass Jackson, to lead their predominantly white football team. The interview emphasized the significance of this decision constantly throughout the segment, going as far as to ask Jackson himself, “Do you think that a Black man like you could coach at a major predominantly white football institution?”(6:47). When pressing Scott and one of the co-captains of the football team about Jackson’s race, both replied that Jackson was not hired because of his race at all but simply because he was the most qualified and the best fit for the position. On top of this significant step, Tommie Smith, whose protest at the 1968 Summer Olympics we discussed last week, was hired as the assistant director of athletics. Described in the broadcast as a “militant”, this carried significance because it emphasized the truly progressive approach to college athletics that Oberlin was committed to. Through the democratization of athletics and the hiring of Cass Jackson and Tommie Smith, Oberlin carved its place into sports history. 


As we watched the video on Oberlin college, I think that it holds great significance as it represents what our country is about. It represents American democracy and equality, and that regardless of race, anyone qualified could bring a successful season to the college of Ohio. During the video, when Tommy Smith was interviewed, he talked about his record holding and successful season during his collegiate years, and that if him being of color could perform the way he does, then a man of color (Cass Jackson) could do the same with coaching a team to success. Black athletes were beginning to be recruited to predominantly white colleges, yet for some reason, that was not the case for the management aspect of the college. As Zirin stated “sports and politics don’t mix” we were able to read on this in our assigned section for the week. “Well before the Black Power salute episode, those protesting discrimination and racism found in sports a useful way to publicize their issues” (Davies, 317). This goes back to Zirin’s maxim, as politics only tended to bring out the issues and allow for the protesting of equality truly come to light. Therefore, the historical significance of this college in regards to sports is huge, as it brought light and attention to the racial injustice that was going on not only at this college, but all around the world. 


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