Martin Luther’s Influence on Physical Education

Martin Luther’s Influence on Physical Education

Martin Luther believed that physical training through activities such as sport is essential in the youth’s education. He believed in muscular Christianity, and although he did not actively engage in the sports, he felt that there was a relationship between the sports and the civil rights movement. Martin Luther believed that sports were a powerful tool for advocating for social justice. He had shown interest in baseball as he watched players such as Jackie Robinson.

He influenced Jackie Robinson to start civil rights career after his career with Brooklyn Dodgers ended. Although he was discouraged by many people as this would tarnish his image by Luther argued that Robinson was a vocal contributor in fighting for freedom (Zirin, 2010). Contribution from such a renowned baseball player influenced physical education and sports not only in America but also in Germany. Martin Luther also embraced Cassis Marcellus who was a boxing player whom he would be very vocal in the fight for freedom.  He was very close to Luther, and the FBI recorded their discussions.

In 1967 John Carlos among other athletics organized an Olympic for human rights arguing that African American athletes should not participate in the Olympics to be carried out in Mexico in the following year. The team demands included having the name Cassis Marcellus (Muhammad Ali) title restored to the Olympics as well as to get more African-American coaches hired. Although the protest did not gain support from many civic leaders, Luther was adamant that it was aimed at eliminating injustice and racism. Luther believed in the power of sports and the ability of the black athlete in the redemption of America (Zirin, 2010). However, not all the players were willing to participate in the protests. Some like Willie Mays felt that they were not fit for the fight. There were those who were ready to come together and boycott for black athletes. Through sport and physical education students can respect cultural diversity and avoid racial discrimination.

Martin Luther was a victim of racial discrimination, so he was determined to fight it through nonviolent protests. First, he and his white friend were enrolled in different schools, and when he was 14 years old, he had to give his seat to a white passenger on his ride from  Georgia. Luther believed in the black athlete potential and their role in racial discrimination where the blacks were seen as second class citizens.  Seeing Jackie Robinson break the racial barrier made him realize the black athlete could achieve more than being advocates of civil rights (Zirin, 2018).  Before he was assassinated in 1968 h had met with some athletes, and although his engagements in sports collided with politics, he was persistent.

King is believed to be a motivator of athletes who even today fight for the rights of the blacks and advocate they are treated like the white citizens (Zirin, 2018).  One of the sports stars who has been vocal in political and social issues is LeBron James. The King’s relationship with sports star has an impact on the contribution offered by champions in different areas including education. James’s foundation, for example, contributed in 2011 in an academic program aimed at reducing the number of students who drop out of high school.

James contribution to physical education and sport is also evident as he donated 1 million dollars to St. Vincent-St. Mary for construction of a new gymnasium. Such facilities help in helping students to recognize the importance of embracing the sport and how it can change different aspects of their life (Zirin, 2018). Luther’s support of the sports also influenced contribution in school sporting activities as sports stars acknowledge that sports play other roles apart from fitness. In 2013 James foundation partnered with Nike to provide the teams for the two schools with new sports uniforms.

Ali is another champion who was influenced by Martin Luther to fight for inequality, and the decision that he made in 1967 of refusing to serve in Vietnam made him gain prominence in anti-war protests. Ali was stripped of his boxing titles, and a court had sentenced him to five years in prison although he did not go to jail. The decision had an impact on his career as he did not fight for three and a half years (Zirin, 2018). In 1971, the conviction verdict was overturned by the United States Supreme court. Ali decision could have made him lose everything including his career since at that time the war was highly supported.

The heavyweight champion had sacrificed a lot for the movement, and his leadership and sacrifice was on another level. Although he initially did not get support from the America establishment for his stand, he was rather feared they finally came to adore his courage for standing for what he believed in. , and not even Luther’s assassination would make him retract (Zirin, 2018). He was an athlete who was determined to make remarkable changes not only in sports but also in his country.

Martin Luther believed in his philosophy of nonviolence and disputed ideologies from philosophers such as Hegel. This ideology was incorporated not only in America physical education but also in Germany schools (Goodwin, 2018). The ideology emphasizes on the significance of using sports and other physical education activities to fight racial discrimination.  Athletes and sports champions are known to be vocal and can easily drive agendas. Discrimination on racial basis happens in athletics hence the need to peacefully fight for inclusion of members from different races in the team. When a team consists of members from different races they are likely to learn from each other and embrace each other’s culture as they will be working towards a common goal.

Through the influence of Martin Luther King, the German philosophers learned that use of violence is not an effective way of fighting for the civil rights of citizens. Through nonviolence protests, a leader is likely to attract more supporters as compared to when using forceful means. The early German and American educators were able to recognize the power of spots and physical engagement in fighting for civil rights (Goodwin, 2018). With the support of champions such as Jackie Robinson and Mohammad Ali, Martin Luther was able to win the fight against racial discrimination which was common, and he had experienced the vice as the blacks were seen as second class citizens.

Johann Friedrich GutsMuths is known as the founder of physical education, and he taught in various institutes in Germany for 50 years. He sternly believed that a strong nation is made up of strong girl and boys hence the need for outdoor exercises (Winnick, & Porretta, 2016). He developed activities to be undertaken by students during physical education programs. Physical education was implemented in the United States in the middle of the 19th century, but during this time the objective was to train the soldiers for battles.  This however changed over time and the physical education was carried out with the aim of addressing health-related topics. Initially, the girls’ physical education involved gymnastic activities while the boys carried out the rough activities.

Physical education attracted support from leaders such as John F. Kennedy who was vocal on physical fitness way before he was elected as the president. His objective was to promote physical fitness not only among the youth but also for the entire population. Physical education is today mandatory in the schools and is incorporated in the curriculum (Winnick, & Porretta, 2016). Physical education is not only important for the body of the student but also for the mind. The physical activities boost the confidence of the students and are linked to better academic performance.

Martin Luther was determined to fight racial segregation which he had experienced. He believed in the use of nonviolence protest to solve the problem. Although King did not participate actively in sports, he showed interests in sports such as baseball played by Jackie Robinson. He motivated the black athlete to participate in the fight against racial segregation. Some of the athletes believed in his ideology and were willing to boycott the Olympics that were held in Mexico. Ideas from German philosophers related to physical education were implemented and the programs mandatory in the curriculum. Prominent sports personalities mentor students on physical activities up to date. The civil rights movement played a significant role in advocating for equality among citizens of different races.



Goodwin, B. (2018). Martin Luther King, Jr., American Social Educator. Journal of the Interdenominational Theological Center4(2), 7.

Winnick, J., & Porretta, D. (Eds.). (2016). Adapted Physical Education and Sport, 6E. Human Kinetics.

Zirin, D. (2018). What Did Martin Luther King Have to Do With Sports? Retrieved from

Zirin, D. (2010). MLK wasn’t an athlete, but he understood the importance of sports. Retrieved from