Black athletes in 1980s, 90s not outspoken, but not silent

FILE - In this March 2,1999, file photo, Michael Jordan stands with a group of models at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas where he previewed the Fall/Holiday 1999 Jordan collection, a sub-brand of Nike. By the 1980s, America finally publicly embraced the black athlete, looking past skin color to see athleticism and skill, rewarding stars with multimillion-dollar athletic contracts, movie deals, lucrative shoe endorsements and mansions in all-white enclaves. Who didn’t want to be like Mike? (Jim Laurie/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP, File)

By the 1980s, America finally publicly embraced the black athlete, looking past skin color to see athleticism and skill, rewarding stars with multimillion-dollar athletic contracts, movie deals, lucrative shoe endorsements and mansions in all-white enclaves.

Who didn't want to be like Mike?

But those fortunate black athletes like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods did not, for the most part, use their celebrity to speak out. Most were silent on issues like the crack epidemic, apartheid in South Africa, the racial tensions exposed by the O.J. Simpson trial and the police brutality that set off the Rodney King riots.

Of course, there were exceptions - more, perhaps, than are generally remembered. And the times and the media of those times did not necessarily lend themselves to protest. But while Jack Johnson and Muhammad Alionce stood up - and more recently, Colin Kaepernick , Lebron James, Serena Williams and others would not back down - black athletes of the '80s and '90s were known mostly for playing games.

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