Sports Illustrated's African American Athlete Series as Socially Responsible Journalism

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American Journalism: A Journal of Media History






In July 1968, Sports Illustrated magazine published a series of articles titled “The Black Athlete: A Shameful Story,” that ran for five consecutive weeks. Up until that year, and contrary to popular opinion and mainstream journalistic accounts, collegiate and professional athletic teams had discriminated against African Americans. SI's series was the first to appear in a national periodical that comprehensively investigated and “indicted” the American sports establishment for its treatment of African Americans. The series was the first controversial investigative analysis of a social sports topic that SI had undertaken during its history, and it was printed despite opposition from its own upper management team. This research investigates the findings of the series as well as the resulting reader feedback that exceeded any SI has received on an article(s) it has published. It argues that the series played a role in bringing the civil rights movement to the locker room by raising public awareness. As a result, the series represented a significant development in the advancement of socially responsible sports journalism.