Athletes to discuss history, future of Black women's protest in sports

October 15, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The College of the Liberal Arts will host a panel discussion with former and current Olympic, professional and collegiate athletes from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 21. The event, "Black Women’s Athletic Activism: Past, Present, and Future," will explore the history and future of Black women’s protest in sports. Advance registration is required.

For the second time, the College of the Liberal Arts has chosen a theme around which it has planned courses, lectures, presentations, and events. Continuing through the 2020–21 academic year, the college’s theme is "Moments of Change: A Century of Women’s Activism," which was inspired by the centennial of the adoption of the 19th Amendment.

This event welcomes Olympian Wyomia Tyus back to Penn State. Tyus, along with Tommie Smith and Harry Edwards, previously participated in a panel where they reflected on their protest at the 1968 Olympics. That event was part of the College of the Liberal Arts’ theme in 2018, "Moments of Change: Remembering 1968." This time, Tyus will be joined by other Black women athletes who have previously and are currently using their platforms to speak about social justice.

According to Amira Rose Davis, assistant professor of history and African American studies at Penn State, Black women athletes’ engagement with athletic activism has long been overlooked. Davis, who will moderate the panel, said, “Black women athletes have been consistently outspoken about issues of police brutality, racism, sexism and homophobia. They have long used their platforms to advocate for social justice and often times take some of the most decisive action.”

Davis hopes this panel will “shine a light on some of the work that has been done and continues to be done by Black women in sports and centers their voices in conversation that too often leaves them out.”

Learn more about the panelists below.

Wyomia Tyus

Tyus is a three-time Olympic Gold Medalist and the first person to ever retain the Olympic title in the 100 meters. Tyus competed in the 1964 and 1968 Olympic Games, where she also engaged in athletic protest. In 2018, she released her memoir, "Tigerbelle: the Wyomia Tyus story," with co-author Elizabeth Terzakis.

Toni Smith-Thompson

Smith-Thompson is currently a senior organizer with the New York Civil Liberties Union focusing on campaigns to undo systems of racial injustice in education. After sparking national debate in 2003 over her protest during the national anthem at college basketball games, Smith-Thompson built a career in the nonprofit sector, addressing social justice issues through direct service, organizing and policy reform.

Gwen Berry

Berry is a USA Track and Field athlete specializing in the hammer throw. The Ferguson native has been involved with social justice efforts for years, but she caught national attention when she raised her fist on the medal stand after winning gold at the 2019 Pan Am Games. Berry continues to be an outspoken against racial injustice.

A.J. Andrews

Andrews is a professional softball player with Athletes Unlimited, the former LSU stand-out became the first female to win a Rawlings Gold Glove in the award’s 59-year existence. Andrews is also the subject of the award-winning documentary, "Knocking Down the Fences" and a frequent host/media correspondent for "The Player’s Tribune" and "The Undefeated."

Tina Charles

Charles is a Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) player with the Washington Mystics. After winning two national championships, Charles was the first overall pick in the 2010 WNBA draft. She was 2010 Rookie of the Year, 2012 League MVP, a seven time all-star, and two-time Olympic Gold medalist. As a veteran leader of the league, Charles has been at the forefront of the WNBA's activism for years.

Anna Cockrell

Cockrell is a USA Track and Field athlete and member of the University of South Carolina (USC) women’s track team. Cockrell was a gold and silver medalist at the 2019 Pan American Games. She recently started USC’s United Black Student Athlete Association (UBSAA).

Olivia Jack

Jack is a member of the Penn State swim team. This summer she helped start the website Athletes for Equal Rights, which helps collect stories from athletes and workouts that shed light on social issues. She also helped start the Penn State Black Student Athlete organization.

Amira Rose Davis

Davis is an assistant professor of history and African American studies at Penn State where she specializes in 20th-century American history with an emphasis on race, gender, sports and politics. She is also the co-host of the feminist sports podcast "Burn it All Down." Davis will serve as the event moderator.

To learn more about the college’s theme, to see additional upcoming events, to find educational resources, and more, visit

This event is sponsored by the College of the Liberal Arts, the Department of History, the Eberly Family Special Collections Library, the Department of African American Studies, the Center for Black Digital Research, and the Humanities Institute.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 15, 2021