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Faculty Blog: Bill Russell's Legacy of combatting racism in the NBA


On the Monday edition of “Closer Look,” Ron Thomas, chair of the Journalism in Sports, Culture and Social Justice Department at Morehouse College, discusses NBA Hall of Famer and civil rights activist Bill Russell, who died on July 31.

The Boston Celtics acquired Russell in 1956 in what many experts consider one of the most impactful trades in sports history. His studious approach to defense revolutionized shot-blocking in basketball, and he also was recognized for his outspokenness against prejudice in society. His frankness in the face of exposing racism became a beacon for Black players who lacked protection from discrimination and retaliation. 

“He was really speaking for other Black players throughout the league who, because they were not superstars, did not have the protection he did,” Thomas said. “Some people might have used that as an excuse to not say anything, but he used it as a reason to be outspoken.” 

Listen to the full conversation on NPR's WABE.  

Bill Russell in 1956. (AP Photo)