A Smithsonian Sports Curator Explains How Athletes Turn Social and Political Issues into National Conversations

Atlantic staff writer Frank Foer interviews Damion Thomas about athletes moving from a position of apathy to engagement

When dozens of big thinkers gathered at the Smithsonian Arts & Industries Building last December for an eight-hour relay of two-person dialogues, each with an optimism to share, Damion Thomas, the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s curator of sports, cut to the chase.

“I am optimistic because athletes are protesting,” he told his interviewer, Atlantic staff writer Frank Foer.

Whether or not you agree with them politically, Thomas went on to say, “It is very important, because what it shows is that they have bought into these American ideals—these ideas of freedom, justice and equality for all, the idea that America is a place where everybody should be equal before the law.”

Thomas shared that he began to see how sports are an entryway into social and political conversations as a young boy. Later, a professor of a colonial history course he took in college drove a larger point home about the importance of history saying, “Whoever controls the present will use their power to control the past in hopes of controlling the future.” From that point on, he’s been passionate about exploring how history is not about the past, but about the present and the future.

Listen to Thomas talk about Colin Kaepernick, Charles Barkley and the role of athletes in politics.

Mark your calendars for this year’s “Long Conversation,” which will bring an impressive group of scientists, musicians, inventors, tech CEOs and others together on December 7, 2018. Watch it on livestream here.

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