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Athletes protesting is not a new thing

The "Jefe" Beck

Turn on any 24/7 news channel and you may think we are in rare times when athletes speak up for injustices that are important to them. From the now infamous kneeling by Colin Kapernick in 2016 to the current demonstrations of virtually all pro sports leagues, the height of athletes protesting social injuststice is upon us. However, it is certainly not new. Whether protesting or taking a stand, athletes speaking up dates back to at least 1883. That is when Moses Fleetwood Walker (featured image) played for the Toldeo Blue Stockings and the owner, manager and first basemen of the Chicago White Sox, Cap Anson, was not happy about it (The Undefeated, 2019). Anson insisted that Toledo not play Walker, who was injured anyway and not scheduled in the lineup. Walker, along with his manager Charlie Morton, decided to take a stand. Walker played in right field that day at the urging of Morton, which seemingly put Anson into a mental meltdown. He would use a racial slur before the game, stating that this will be the last game he plays with a {disgusting word}. Three years after this incident, Anson unspeakably got his wish when owners of the league barred black players from professional baseball.

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From Paul Robeson of the Rutgers football team to the female swimmer Gertrude Ederle to Jesse Owens at the Olympics crushing Hitler's theory on the superior race, athletes from nearly every generation have used their platform to remind us that the human species is far from perfect and loving to all mankind. Jackie Robinson in baseball and Althea Gibson in woman's tennis broke barriers in sports otherwise reserved for whites. They had the guts, determination, and fearless attitude to break through the baseless and racist barriers set before them. One of the first boycotts of a pro sporting event, that we can find, is when Bill Russel of the Boston Celtics in the 1961-62 exhibition season boycotted a game in Lexington, KY because he and his teammates were refused service at a local restaurant. As Bleacher Report noted (2011), the boycotted game was a ground-breaking statement at a time when black athletes had been expected to look the other way at such discrimination.

Women have taken similar stands, as noted above with Miss Ederle. There was also the Boston Marathon in 1967 when Kathrine “Kathy” Switzer finished in record time despite needing to drag along Marathon official Jock Semple after he jumped off the press bus to try and pull her off the course, which he did not succeed. Few forget the 1968 Olympics and the famous fists, or Muhammed Ali or Bill Walton, who was arrested during an Anti-Vietnam War protest. As you start to dig deeper you realize two things, we have a dark history, and athletes of every generation have been willing to put their career, and oftentimes their lives, on the line in respect to social and racial justice.

No, today's athletes are not "out of control" as some may suggest. Sure, it feels like the current athletes often contradict themselves by taking up the wrong cause or case in the news.  Perhaps you would argue they have it way better than their predecessors. That is a different subject for a different day, possibly. The issue at hand is, these are not thugs, or instigators or bad people. They know their history, they idolize those brave enough to stand up for injustices of the past and present. So as you threaten to stop watching the NBA or NFL, just remind yourself.....if you are boycotting your eyes from watching sports on TV because of athlete protests, you should have done that years ago.

 

References

 

Wulf, Steve. (2019, January). Athletes and activism: The long, defiant history of sports protests. The Undefeated. Retrieved from https://theundefeated.com/features/athletes-and-activism-the-long-defiant-history-of-sports-protests/

Merlino, Doug (2011, April). Bill Russell, Civil Rights Hero and Inventor of Airborne Basketball. Bleacher Report. Retrieved from https://bleacherreport.com/articles/682589-bill-russell-civil-rights-hero-and-inventor-of-airborne-basketball

 

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Turn on any 24/7 news channel and you may think we are in rare times when athletes speak up for injustices that are important to them. From the now infamous kneeling by Colin Kapernick in 2016 to the current demonstrations of virtually all pro sports leagues, the height of athletes […]