Why must Black cinema and media studies account for sports? The answer is quite simple: sports matter. As a contested cultural arena, sports are significant to our understanding of how race matters in and to American society. Sports remains one of the primary ways that people confront and talk about race in the contemporary moment. Take for example the most recent sports news I encountered while writing this Introduction. On June 6, 2018, Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins demonstrated on live television the fraught ways in which sports is central to how we understand and misunderstand racial issues today. The Eagles, who won their first Super Bowl championship in 2017, were disinvited to the White House's celebration of their accomplishment, a punitive snub by the Trump administration against NFL players' national anthem protests (no Eagles kneeled in protest during the regular season) and a petty retaliation against the many Eagles' players who refused to attend the ceremony prior to the disinvitation. During a press conference following the cancelled event, Jenkins, standing composed and silent in the Eagles locker room, held up large white poster boards to the amassed sports journalists and their cameras that read:
"You aren't listening."
"More than 60% of people in prison are people of color."
"Nearly 200,000 juveniles enter the adult criminal system each year, most for non-violent crimes #stopschoolpipelinetoprision."
"In 2018, 439 people shot and killed by police (thus far). In U.S. pop, 8% = African American. Shot by police, 25% = African American."
"Colin Kaepernick gave $1million to charity."
"Chris Long gave his ENTIRE YEAR's SALARY to educational initiatives."
"Any given night 500,000 sit in jail. Convicted? No. Too Poor? Yes. #EndCashBail" [End Page 156]
"True Patriots: Anquan Boldin, Doug Baldwin, Richard Sherman, Devin McCourty, Josh Norman, Chris Long, Torrey Smith, Rodney McLeod, Michael Bennett, Ben Watson, Demario Davis, Carl Davis, Kelvin Beachum, Matt Slater, Josh McCowan, Duron Harmon, Johnson Bademosi, etc."
"Ben Watson and Demario Davis helped push through L.A. House Bill 265 restoring voting rights for returning citizens."
"Devin MCourty, Duron Harmon, Matt Slater and Johnson Bademosi lobbied to raise the age from 7 to 12 entering the criminal justice system."
In his blistering summating of these actions, Damon Young explains that Jenkins "responding to droning, inane and unending questions and the intentional misinterpretations of the NFL players' anthem protest with signs articulating why they are doing this was clever, bold, and all things considered, black as fuck. Because [Jenkins] knows, as they knew back during Jim Crow, that while (white) America has a selective-hearing problem, even the worst white people can see posters."1 The visual narrative expressed by Jenkins compels this compendium of essays on mediated contests and propels our interest in race, sports, and the power of narrative.
If the leading sports headlines such as that of Jenkins's emphatic silent presentation tell us anything, it is that stories in the media about sports and race continue to fixate, baffle, and resonate within popular culture. The media and sporting controversy over Colin Kaepernick is a case in point. In 2016, the former NFL quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers became a national symbol for his protest against police brutality and racial injustice in America. First sitting, then kneeling on the sidelines during the national anthem, Kaepernick's televised silent protest was a watershed moment in contemporary sports' entanglements with race and politics. Despite his clear explanation that he was not disrespecting the military but was taking a stand (by taking a knee) against racism and inequality, Kaepernick's activism sparked polarizing responses from the public. He became a subject of conversation, celebration, consternation, and condemnation.
Sports are often incorrectly presumed to be apolitical. However, there is a long and entrenched history of political discourses, debates, struggles, and activity shaping US sports culture, a history chronicled in sports writer Dave Zirin's documentary Not Just a Game: Power, Politics, and American Sports (dir. Jeremy Earp, 2010). Kaepernick's actions reify how, as Michel Foucault observes, "the body is also directly involved in a political field; power relations have an immediate hold upon it; they invest it, mark it...