Professional athletes part of long-standing tradition of using platforms for politics
March 7, 2017
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Since the beginning of professional athletics, athletes have used their fame as a platform to incite political change. Though the causes have changed, the will to fight for what they believe has always remained. Some recent examples of this include NBA star Stephen Curry sharing his thoughts on the president and NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick sitting for the playing of the National Anthem.
The following is just a sample of political stances taken by athletes throughout the years.
The 1936 Olympics, held in Berlin, were both racially and politically charged. Adolf Hitler boasted that his Aryan race would beat any other country, including the African-American track star from the United States, Jesse Owens. Owens seemed to ignore Hitler’s blatantly racist statements as he brought four gold medals back to the United States.
In 1938, there was yet another triumph for African Americans over the Nazis with pro boxer Joe Louis’ victory against Aryan boxer Max Schmelin. The fight lasted just over two minutes, but had a huge impact on the way the black community was viewed.
Billie Jean King was one of the most prolific tennis players of all time. She fought for equality between men and women athletes throughout her career and was president of the Women’s Tennis Association. One of her greatest accomplishments both athletically, and to make a statement for equality, was beating the number one-ranked male tennis player Bobby Riggins in the 1973 Battle of the Sexes.
Muhammad Ali was always an activist for civil rights. A friend of fellow activist Malcolm X, Ali was outspoken when it came to fighting for and protecting civil rights. Ali also spoke out against the Vietnam war. He was drafted into the military but refused to serve. Because of this showing he was banned from boxing and even had some of his Olympic medals taken from him.
After the death of Trayvon Martin, the Miami Heat (at the time led by Lebron James and Dwyane Wade) posted an Instagram photo displaying the majority of the team with their heads bowed, wearing sweatshirts with their hands in their pockets, to mimic the clothing Martin was wearing when killed. The photo was captioned, “WeAreTrayvonMartin” also calling to bring Martin’s killer to justice.
In 2014 after the protests of the police shootings in Ferguson, Missouri, players on the St. Louis Rams decided to show their support. Tight end Jared Cook and wide receivers Kenny Britt, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Chris Givens stopped in the tunnel during pregame and put their hands in the air, the symbolic, “Hands up don’t shoot” gesture. According to ESPN, there was talk of the players being fined for the act, however the NFL decided against it.
Ever since athletes have been in the spotlight, they have used their talents to make statements for what they believe in. Athletes have always been working toward change.
As Trump’s presidency begins, the social advocacy is likely to continue.