One of the main themes in August Wilson’s play Fences is the strong disagreement between Troy Maxson and his son Cory over Cory’s intention to play college football. The play is set in the 1950s–1960s, and Wilson wrote it in 1985. The movie version was released in December 2016. By that time, there were some significant differences in Black people’s roles in athletics; despite many successes, they continued to face numerous challenges. In 2016, one marker of Black athletes’ increasing activism was Colin Kaepernick’s sitting and kneeling before NFL games.
A highly influential factors in Troy’s decision to withhold permission for Cory to play was his own experience in baseball. The year 2016 marked the 70th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s integration of Major League Baseball, as he played in a minor league affiliate before the Dodgers.
In his youth, Troy had high hopes for his baseball career, but they did not pan out. As the embittered Troy blamed racism, he was convinced that Cory would also be derailed by discrimination. He was not moved by Cory’s insistence that things had changed. While the percentage of African Americans in college and professional athletics had increased by 2016, illegal and discriminatory practices continued in college programs. Especially notable were the findings from a scandal at the University of North Carolina. Beginning in the early 2000s, it had been revealed that some athletes were brought in just to play and did not attend classes or do coursework. The NCAA investigation brought attention to many Black student-athletes’ claims about substandard education in proportion to athletic program demands.