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Through the Wire: National Anthem Protests in Sports

This past Tuesday evening, November 28, Emmanuel held a presentation regarding recent displays of protest during the playing of the National Anthem at professional sporting events. Director of Diversity and Inclusion/Multicultural Programs Jeff Smith hosted the discussion.

The event highlighted current and past forms of protest during the National Anthem, as well as other notable instances of protesting American involved events.  Smith pointed to specific athlete activists.

In today’s respect, the “athlete most associated with social protest is Colin Kaepernick,” Smith said.

We have seen protest in professional sports before Kaepernick. For instance, Muhammad Ali declined entering the draft during the Vietnam War due to his Islamic beliefs, which forbid the involvement of war and violence. At this point in history, Ali was already in his prime of his boxing career. His rejection of entering the draft resulted in a 5 year prison sentence, $10,000 fine, and suspension from the World Boxing Association. The prison sentence was appealed, but Ali was still ostracized in the boxing community.

“Even [with] conversations about Kaepernick, when you look back at Ali, how will they perceive Colin?” asked Smith.

The conversation then looked to the Summer Olympics of 1968, in Mexico City, where an international display of protest was displayed by all three finalists in the 200 meter race. Gold winner Tommie Smith and bronze winner John Carlos both raised their fists in solidarity with oppressed people of color in America. Meanwhile, Australian silver medalist Peter Norman wore a pin representing the Olympic Project for Human Rights initiative. Smith and Carlos were sent home and banned for life from the Olympics after the event.

Photo by John Dominis, 1968

Social protest does not have to do with just the National Anthem. In 1973, Billie Jean King played known misogynist Bobby Riggs in a historic tennis match. King played as a form of protest against the treatment of women and the disparity between male and female pay. She won the match and later claimed responsibility for the downfall in progression of women’s rights had she not won. King highlighted the pressure for all people who display solidarity for social justice.

These protests led to displays in the NBA. In 1996, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf sat during the National Anthem to show his distaste in what the flag represents, which he claimed was racism and oppression. Rauf stated later in an interview, “You can’t be for God and for oppression…I don’t criticize those who stand, so don’t criticize me for sitting.”

Current protests include the Minnesota Lynx WNBA team wearing shooting shirts with the names of recently killed unarmed African-Americans by police, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, along with the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” We have also seen a number of NBA players, including LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, display their distaste for the justice system with shooting shirts worn last season. The shirts read, “I can’t breathe.” This phrase was in reference to Eric Garner’s death, who was strangled to death by NYPD officers.

The NFL, after widespread displays of solidarity with Kaepernick by individuals kneeling during the Anthem, received much backlash by NFL owners and the President himself. Houston Texans owner Bob McNair said in a meeting, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison.” This remark sparked huge outrage in the football community and led to protests by over sixty percent of the Houston Texans the following game. At an event in Alabama, President Trump called players who participated in any protest during the National Anthem, “sons of bitches.” The full transcript of the President’s statement can be read here.

Despite these comments and backlash, Colin Kaepernick, who is still unsigned by an NFL team, was honored with his appearance on the cover of GQ Magazine.  He also just received the 2017 Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award on November 30.

Devin Nelson ’19 is the Vice President and Managing Editor Elect at The Hub. Reach out to him by email or follow him on Twitter @nellydevin.

Posted by on December 4, 2017. Filed under Around Campus. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.