Smithsonian NMAAHC: Generations of game changers

Generations of game changers

WASHINGTON, DC (WUSA) -- They held court, framed greatness in the ring and stand among the best in the world.  

"Sports have implications in all aspects of society," says curator Damion Thomas.

In the hall that bears the name of another legend, Michael Jordan, you'll find generations of game changers.

Thomas says, "This gallery is really about social history.  What we can learn about the African American struggle for greater rights and freedom through sports."

Many of the artifacts that help tell that story have come from people who've donated their family treasures. Curator Thomas says a football collection and other items have spent years in the personal vault of the late Jock Michael Smith.

"This family has the largest collection of private sports memorabilia in the entire world," he says.

They are just some of their 10,000 items.  The college jersey of Doug Williams from Grambling before he played for Washington.

Jim Brown's 1957 MVP trophy.

A jersey and polo shirt from Michael Singletary and coach Tony Dungy and many helmets.

Smith started off as just a casual sports collector.  Through the years, the love he inherited from his father continued to grow.  And, pretty soon, his closets were bursting from all the history gathered in his home.

The founding member of the Cochran Firm even made some history, too, taking on the NFL to push for more inclusion when it came to hiring head coaches.  

"And, so not only was Jock an incredible collector, he was also a social activist and an attorney who believed in creating opportunities for African Americans beyond the playing field," says Damion Thomas.

A walk through the exhibit will likely stir some emotion for sports enthusiasts.  Not all of the game changers appear here.  

Curator Thomas says he is bracing for some controversy.   He says, "Indeed, I think people are going to respond to some of our choices.  They're not going to like some of them.  But, I think debate is healthy."


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