Media Resource

BackStory: Making the Team: Sports and Equality in American History

In 2012, the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team beat Japan to win the Olympic gold medal.
Photo caption

In 2012, the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team beat Japan to win the Olympic gold medal.

This episode of BackStory entitled "Making the Team: Sports and Equality in American History" recounts important moments in the history of sports and they ways they have intersected with fights for equality both on and off the playing field. While the struggles for equality for women athletes and athletes of color have been more visible, less familiar may be the history of sports and decolonization, captured by the idea of "sports sovereignty." 

A full transcript of this episode can be found on the BackStory website.

A Hop, Skip, and a Jump

Comprehension Questions

  • Why was the American Physical Education Association opposed to women's participation in track and field events?
  • What was the role of international cooperation in creating a place for women athletes to compete at a higher level?
  • What was the APEA's response to the successes of Lucile Godbold and the other U.S. women in Paris?

EDSITEment Resources

The rise of professional sports and leisure activities went hand in hand at the turn of the twentieth century, with spectator sports like baseball becoming famous pastimes. Yet just as the world of sport was marked by different forms of inequality, so was the world of leisure. This lesson plan and student activity (grades 6-8) address the economics of leisure in the turn-of-the-century United States, and can help students think about the overlapping and intersecting forms of inequality that surround the world of sport.

Independence through Sport?

Comprehension Questions

  • What is "sports sovereignty"? In what historical moment did it emerge as a practice?
  • What tensions emerged surrounding sports sovereignty at the 1966 Central American and Caribbean Games?
  • According to Antonio Sotomayor, how has sports sovereignty been successful in reproducing the colonial relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico?

EDSITEment Resources

Puerto Rico became a territory of the United States at the conclusion of the Spanish-American War. Learn more about that war and the broader context of U.S. imperial expansion with the student activity The Spanish-American War (grades 6-12).

Black Power Salute

Comprehension Questions

  • Tommy Smith and John Carlos's Black Power salute is one of the better-known and most visible protest symbols at the 1968 Olympics. What other symbols did these men incorporate into this moment?
  • How did U.S. spectators and the U.S. Olympic Committee respond to the protest?
  • What are some of the other political aspects of the Olympics? Why are some forms of politics more accepted than others in the context of the Olympic Games?

EDSITEment Resources

EDSITEment has many lesson plans and other resources covering civil rights in the United States. One way to situate Smith and Carlos's protest in context would be to discuss different methods and modes of protest in the 1960s with the curriculum Competing Voices of the Civil Rights Movement (grades 9-12).

About BackStory

Founded in 2008, BackStory is a weekly podcast that explores the historical roots of current events. Hosted by a team of historians of the United States, the show features interviews with other scholars and public historians, seeking to bring U.S. history to life. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the show do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Learn more at the BackStory website.