The Heritage

Black Athletes, a Divided America, and the Politics of Patriotism
Narrated by: Ron Butler
Length: 11 hrs and 17 mins
Categories: History, Americas
4.8 out of 5 stars (150 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Following in the footsteps of Robeson, Ali, Robinson, and others, today's black athletes reengage with social issues and the meaning of American patriotism

Named a Best Book of 2018 by Library Journal

It used to be that politics and sports were as separate from one another as church and state. The ballfield was an escape from the world's worst problems, top athletes were treated like heroes, and cheering for the home team was as easy and innocent as hot dogs and beer. "No news on the sports page" was a governing principle in newsrooms.

That was then.

Today, sports arenas have been transformed into staging grounds for American patriotism and the hero worship of law enforcement. Teams wear camouflage jerseys to honor those who serve; police officers throw out first pitches; soldiers surprise their families with homecomings at halftime. Sports and politics are decidedly entwined.

But as journalist Howard Bryant reveals, this has always been more complicated for black athletes, who from the start were committing a political act simply by being on the field. In fact, among all black employees in 20th-century America, perhaps no other group had more outsized influence and power than ballplayers. The immense social responsibilities that came with the role is part of the black athletic heritage. It is a heritage built by the influence of the superstardom and radical politics of Paul Robeson, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos through the 1960s; undermined by apolitical, corporate-friendly "transcenders of race", O. J. Simpson, Michael Jordan, and Tiger Woods in the following decades; and reclaimed today by the likes of LeBron James, Colin Kaepernick, and Carmelo Anthony.

The Heritage is the story of the rise, fall, and fervent return of the athlete-activist. Through deep research and interviews with some of sports' best-known stars - including Kaepernick, David Ortiz, Charles Barkley, and Chris Webber - as well as members of law enforcement and the military, Bryant details the collision of post-9/11 sports in America and the politically engaged post-Ferguson black athlete.

©2018 Howard Bryant (P)2018 Beacon Press

Critic Reviews

“A fascinating, insightful look at race, politics, and sport.” (Booklist

“A well-researched meditation on the historical pressures on African-American athletes to embrace (or avoid) political engagement.... An appealing blend of sports history and provocative discussion of race and success, respect, and representation in America.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“In this timely book, Bryant, senior writer for ESPN Magazine, astutely explains how sports serves ‘as a barometer of blacks’ standing in the larger culture.’... This indispensable book expertly chronicles a fractured nation dealing with black players who no longer want to (as Fox News host Laura Ingraham told LeBron James) ‘shut up and dribble.’” (Publishers Weekly

What listeners say about The Heritage

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  • Overall
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Phenomenal history of the African American athlete in civil transformation

Any prospective political scientist or civics teacher will find this an enjoyable, sometimes difficult book. Bryant traces the history from Robeson to Kaepernick in the role of creating societal changes with regard to America. Particularly interesting was his treatment of the popularization of militarization of professional sporting events following September 11th, 2001. While I am skeptical in his treatment of the Department of Defense as being nothing nefarious and nationalistic in using various leagues to specialize Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines. It did hit home as being a bit much to make a display of patriotism at every event. His strongest section is the relationship between policing and the black community. It is particularly germane considering contemporary events. Finally, I appreciated his no holds barred approach towards addressing the lack of activism of black athletes who changed the face of sports in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s. Given the soft treatment given Michael Jordan in the wake of ESPN’s The Last Dance, this offers a wonderful contrarian view of MJ’s impact on society vice his overwhelming influence on athletics commercially. I’d recommend this to anybody. Well done, warts and all.

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In-depth and scathingly inciteful.

Howard Bryant once again goes quickly to the heart of the issues and reveals the hypocrisy and self-serving nature of the League, the White House, the military and the public have all been players in a calculated game of deception, lies and naked greed and capitalism. A perfect companion piece to Full Dissidence.

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Down Memory of the Disruptive Heros of Game

I began watching the game as an activist. My father rooted for the Celtics because they had the first Black Coach, later became friends with Sam Jones famous Celtic. We were Georgetown fans because of John Thompson, because John had a all black team in the Final Four. So this book gave me more such heros that either I didn't know or gave me more insight on that and propelled me for more. For instance the fact that Rutgers will have their first African-American Presidents made me think of Paul Roberson and wonder what his bones response would be in the grave. Never would have had that thought if had not listened to this book.

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MASTER PIECE

A history lesson of note. Highly recommend it for all. Inspirational, authentic, truthful and sad at the same time.

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A NPR Fresh Air brought me here

Interesting recounting and history of Black activism within sports. A little long at some parts and the performance didn’t help the subject matter but it was overall interesting.

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Soooo gooooood!!

I’ve read over 100 books this year, and just finished this one. It’s sooooo gooood!!! Easily in my Top 10 I read this year! It’s not New Jim Crow good, but in that continuum. 🙌👏🙌👍

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Wow - incredibly compelling!

I was pleasantly surprised that this book is far more expository and far reaching than just sports, taking about racism and segregation more broadly. Narration is top notch and leaves the book gripping, for my part.

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Great Read

After you read this book you may never watch professional sports again. I found this book so enlightening and full of questions, especially from a veteran's standpoint. I may never stand for recognition again at any event, unless I know who paid the bill. I now understand a historical movement in a much deeper light. Thanks to the author for shinning a light on a sensitive matter in a profound manner.

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What an incredible work!

I learned so incredibly much from this book. A beautifully written and read history which ties sports, patriotism, nationalism, and racism together in one seamless thread. I’m not really a sports fan, but read this after reading White Fragility by Robin Diangelo. Both books have greatly expanded my worldview and my understanding of this country.

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Incredible. Divisive. Dissonant. Unforgettable.

The grips of capitalism are deep. This book was both affirming and eye opening into the depths of the power structure's grip on creating an emotional shared experience at the expense of human bodies. Ths furthered my commitment to principles over entertainment.