They Said It Would Never Change – 125 Years of AAU History
My task was to create an article about 125 years of AAU history. My challenge is how to tell the story about the oldest and most prolific amateur athletic organization in the United States, without focusing on the negative racial and other societal issues that plagued this organization for many years while representing the greatest track and field athletes and legends in the history of the sport. I must admit that to not acknowledge the unfortunate facts that occurred within the organization would be of disservice to those that competed, persevered and steadfastly represented this country in spite of the societal injustices of the times.
Although this is necessary to acknowledge these transgressions, this article is not, and will not use these transgressions as the subject of the story of 125 years of AAU history. We are not that AAU anymore and even though we cannot hide from our past, it is just that – the past. My goal is to tell the story about where we are now in spite of where we may have come from. I am a firm believer that any positive outcome is worth the struggles it may have taken to achieve the goal.
The Amateur Athletic Union of the U.S. was established in 1888. Athletics (track & field) was one of the inaugural sports. Until the enactment of the 1978 Amateur Sports Act which was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter, the AAU served as the national governing body for Athletics, even responsible for the selection of the United States Olympic teams. Yes, until 1978 every Olympic legend to include, Jesse Owens, Wilma Rudolph, Ralph Boston, Bob Beamon, Bruce Jenner, Jim Thorpe, John Carlos, Tommie Smith, Wyomia Tyus, Willie White, Mary Decker, Dick Fosbury, Al Oerter, Jackie-Joyner Kersee, Florence Griffith-Joyner and Carl Lewis, all competed as AAU athletes. The list continues with recent athletes such as Maurice Greene, Justin Gatlin, Sanya Richards-Ross, Wallace Spearman, Bershawn Jackson and many others, all of whom also competed under the auspices of the AAU. Statistics have shown that the majority of current Olympic and elite track & field athletes have competed in AAU events as youth athletes. AAU is synonymous with American track & field.
After the enactment of the 1978 Amateur Sports Act, the AAU shifted the focus of the organization from the elite athlete to youth programming and has since recorded the largest youth track & field program in the nation, surpassing USATF youth programs. The AAU Junior Olympic track & field program has now recorded the largest number of participants in any track meet in the world youth or otherwise with numbers exceeding 14,000 participants in New Orleans in 2011 and over 12,000 in Humble, TX in 2012.
In December, 2012, the AAU became under the leadership of the first African-American President/CEO, Louis Stout. Upon his untimely death a few months later, the AAU became under the leadership of another African-American, Henry Forrest who continues to serve in that capacity. The leadership of these two gentlemen is a testament to the strides made within the AAU. Some said it would never happen. They said the past would always dictate the future of the AAU. Well, I come before you today in my capacity as the first female and African-American AAU Athletics National Chair to say, the AAU has deservedly outgrown the transgressions of our former leaders and is now a well- rounded and open national organization that recognizes and embraces our past while working diligently to continue building our future. We are building a future that welcomes all athletes regardless of race, color, creed or ability to compete in an environment that is safe and competitive.
Welcome to the new AAU!
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