In the 1980s and 1990s we saw a trickle of Africans from the continent participating in U.S. professional basketball. Some of the most familiar NBA players are Akeem (Hakeem) Olajuwon (Nigeria), Dikembe Mutombo (Congo), and Manute Bol (Sudan). In media representations, the success of African athletes is contextualized by the plight of their countries in sub-Sahara Africa. Media emphasizes what these athletes are doing for African countries that are enmeshed in civil war, famine, poverty, disease or corrupt government.
Athletes are leaders for social change and sports is a vehicle for promoting human rights. The global community is recognizing the value of athletes and sports for contributions to the advancement of equality and human rights. African athletes are singled out by media, particularly western media, as humanitarians for the work that they do to aid their countries’ social, political, and economic issues.
This paper directs attention to the role of the African athlete and sport in the promotion of human rights in media as well as the recognition of human rights issues within the arena of sports itself. The paper will examine the relationship between athletes, sports and the media in their efforts to recognize the connection of human rights in and through sports. It will also discuss the pivotal role athletes can play in human rights in and through sports focusing on the role of athletes and sport to impact social change locally, nationally and globally.