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Raise a Fist, Take a Knee: Race and the Illusion of Progress in Modern Sports

Raise a Fist, Take a Knee: Race and the Illusion of Progress in Modern Sports

Current price: $30.00
Publication Date: November 16th, 2021
Little, Brown and Company

Staff Reviews

“Brian Flores, the former coach of the Miami Dolphins, filed a lawsuit against the NFL and all of its teams, accusing them of racial discrimination.”

That’s the lead paragraph of a front page story in the Feb. 1, 2022 issue of The Washington Post.

Some may say the lawsuit is just sour grapes of a coach who didn’t get a job, who didn’t have the talent and experience of the coach hired by the New York Giants. Just a lawsuit seeking money. Just a lawsuit trying to make an issue other teams also addressed this season, and last season, and the season before that, going back for years ad nauseam.

Surely not surprised at Flores’ lawsuit or that he was not hired as the Giants new head coach, Washington Post sportswriter John Feinstein has reason to know. He just published Raise A Fist, Take A Knee — Race And The Illusion of Progress In Modern Sports.

Flores was the coach of the Miami Dolphins for two seasons, racking up winning records both years. Then, he was fired. Before his termination, he was one of three Black coaches of NFL teams. After David Culley was fired as the head coach of the Houston Texans, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Tomlin remains the only Black head coach in the NFL.

The book offers conversations Feinstein had with numerous NFL coaches, NBA coaches, MLB coaches and college coaches, almost all men. He intersperses the anecdotal information with a review of the numbers. He recounts history. He and the people he interviewed don’t pull their punches. The picture is not pretty.

Approximately 55-70 percent of college football players are Black. Although about 70 percent of the NFL players are non-white, a bit less than 60 percent are Black. Black players make up almost 75 percent of the NBA, but only 23 percent of the head coaches are Black. Black women are almost 70 percent of the WNBA but there are no Black women coaching the teams. The NHL is about 97 percent white, with Black Major League Baseball players at less than 10 percent when they were about 20 percent in the 1970s.

Flores came to the Dolphins after working as an assistant coach from 2004-2019 with the New England Patriots. Presumably, coaches with that team know something about the game. The Pats appeared in 11 Super Bowls since 1985 and won six of them. Flores was a coach there for seven of the Super Bowl games and the team won four of them.

Feinstein interviews the late John Thompson, who coached Georgetown to the NCAA national championship and numerous post-season games. Former University of Southern California basketball coach George Raveling, Shaka Smart, from Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Texas, Tommy Amaker, who was a champion while a player at Duke, was head coach for a short stint at Michigan, and is now Harvard’s basketball coach. Numerous other successful coaches on the hardwood recount their experiences. Names known to many who follow baseball, football and hockey will also learn from them.

Unfortunately, Feinstein does not offer conversation or much information about women in professional sports, from the WNBA to soccer to hockey. The book would be stronger had he done that, and would be considerably longer.

George Floyd’s murder in May 2020, however, led to in-season work stoppage by baseball, hockey and basketball teams, including the WNBA, and NFL teams put a momentary stop to spring practices. The book intertwines the realities off the fields and courts with the realities on them.

Often, books document what was. Flores’ lawsuit and the publication of Feinstein’s book arrive at a confluence of what is. Those who follow sports might keep their eyes on the legal route Flores is taking, and read the book for context. Society and sports are never far apart.

— Ross Connelly


Based on dozens of shocking interviews with some of the most influential names in sports, this is the urgent and revelatory examination of racial inequality in professional athletics America has been waiting for.

Commentators, coaches, and fans alike have long touted the diverse rosters of leagues like the NFL and MLB as sterling examples of a post-racial America. Yet decades after Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in a display of Black power and pride, and years after Colin Kaepernick shocked the world by kneeling for the national anthem, the role Black athletes and coaches are expected to perform—both on and off the field—still can be determined as much by stereotype and old-fashion ideology as ability and performance.

Whether it’s the pre-game moments of resistance, the lack of diversity among coaching and managerial staff, or the consistent undervaluation of Black quarterbacks, racial politics impact every aspect of every sport being played—yet the gigantic salaries and glitzy lifestyles of pro athletes often disguise the ugly truths of how minority players are treated and discarded by their White bosses. John Feinstein crisscrossed the country to secure personal interviews with quarterbacks, coaches, and more, revealing the stories none of us have heard (but all of us should know).

Seventy-five years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color line, race is still a central and defining factor of America's professional sports leagues. With an encyclopedic knowledge of professional sports, and shrewd cultural criticism, bestselling and award-winning author John Feinstein uncovers not just why, but how, pro sports continue to perpetuate racial inequality.
“None of us are trying to make race an issue. Race IS an issue.” (From the Foreword by Doug Williams)

About the Author

John Feinstein is the author of 45 books, including two #1 New York Times bestsellers, A Season on the Brink, and A Good Walk Spoiled. Fourteen of his books are Young Adult mysteries. One of them, Last Shot, won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for mystery writing in the Young Adult category. He is a member of five Halls of Fame and currently contributes to The Washington Post; Golf Digest, Golf World and the Black News Channel. He is also the TV color analyst for UMBC basketball.

Praise for Raise a Fist, Take a Knee: Race and the Illusion of Progress in Modern Sports

“Absorbing…a comprehensive study of race and sports.”—The Washington Post

“A sobering, carefully written assessment of ongoing inequalities dotted with small victories." —Kirkus

-—Praise for John Feinstein

"Feinstein is the most successful sportswriter in America....He has the gift of re-creating events known to us all while infusing them with excitement, even suspense."—Jay Nordlinger, Wall Street Journal

"The best chronicler in sports journalism."—Craig Smith, Seattle Times

"Feinstein makes you care."—Bruce Fetts, Entertainment Weekly

"One of the best sportswriters alive."—Larry King, USA Today