York College of PA history professor writes book that explores athlete activism in 1960s, 1970s
The intersection of sports, gender, and political movements long has held a fascination for Dr. Gregory Kaliss, a Lancaster resident. For his latest book, he spent nearly a decade diving deep into the workings of sports during the volatile 1960s and 1970s in the United States.
“Often we think of sports as just fun and entertaining, but removed from the important things of our lives,” he says. “One of the things about sports, though, is that because so many people are invested in them, they can offer real insight into what’s going on in American life.”Greg Kaliss Book
While working on his doctoral dissertation in the early 2000s, Kaliss researched the desegregation of college sports during the 20th century. His in-depth examination of the period opened his eyes to how sports can take the temperature of society. As he researched, he kept looking for a book that outlined a general overview of athlete activism in the 1960s and 1970s. “That book didn’t exist,” he says. “I realized that if I wanted to read it, I’d have to write it.”
As Kaliss’s book took shape, controversial athlete activism was happening all around him. NFL players were kneeling during the national anthem. The U.S. Women’s National Team in soccer was suing for equal pay. Famous athletes were wearing T-shirts with political messages. Dr. Kaliss realized the deeper importance of helping people understand the longer history of politics and sports. “I think it’s a very timely topic,” he says.
Through sports, Kaliss found a window into how conversations around race, racial identity, and gender have shifted over time. A chapter in his book about Billie Jean King explores the pursuit of equal pay for professional women tennis players and sparks a conversation not only about tennis but about how women were treated in the workplace. In a chapter about the American Basketball Association of 1967-76, Dr. Kaliss highlights the roots of some of the earliest forms of hip-hop culture.
The book outlines the way that many doors opened for women’s sports, individual financial empowerment, and greater collegiate athlete activism. It also examines issues that weren’t addressed by society during the period and which continue into the current era. Athletes are still chastised for taking a political stance. Women in many sports are still paid less than men. Race still plays a role in who makes the decisions.
“Despite all these efforts of change,” he says, “at the end of the day, the people in power in almost all major sports remain relatively wealthy white men. Why didn’t that power dynamic change?”
“Beyond the Black Power Salute: Athlete Activism in an Era of Change” is the latest iteration in Kaliss’s body of work exploring the collision of sports and activism. In 2012, he released “Men’s College Athletics and the Politics of Racial Equality: Five Pioneer Stories of Black Manliness, White Citizenship, and American Democracy.”