Emergence of the Black Athlete

How were sports practiced among African warrior-athletes?

Although the first European slavers came from the southern rim of Africa, they had little to do with the emergence and practice of sports in Africa, as sports were already well-woven into the social fabric of daily life. Every child in Africa participated in sports as a part of their upbringing; thus, it is commonly assumed that Africans brought their athletic prowess with them when they came to the New World as slaves. Africans also enjoyed contests that were often connected to “religious ceremonies, fertility rites, rites of passage, or entertainment of visitors.” They engaged in stick fighting, then a sport second only to wrestling. Some showed prowess with a bow and arrow—considered a prized military art and used also to kill animals for food. Above all of this, however, the most honored contestant was the champion wrestler. Africans also practiced gymnastics, and the sport was sometimes held at night under a full moon, where very intricate acts of physical contortion were demonstrated.


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