Sports

Black athletes and political protest

FILE - In this Sept. 3, 2015 file photo, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick watches from the sideline during the second half of an NFL preseason football game against the San Diego Chargers in Santa Clara, Calif. Kaepernick's decision this week to refuse to stand during the playing of the national anthem as a way of protesting police killings of unarmed black men has drawn support and scorn far beyond sports.  (AP Photo/Tony Avelar, File)

FILE – In this Sept. 3, 2015 file photo, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick watches from the sideline during the second half of an NFL preseason football game against the San Diego Chargers in Santa Clara, Calif. Kaepernick’s decision this week to refuse to stand during the playing of the national anthem as a way of protesting police killings of unarmed black men has drawn support and scorn far beyond sports. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar, File)

Kaepernick’s protest was the latest in a history of actions by black athletes meant to call out the discrepancies between the experiences of people of color and America’s professed ideals.

In 1968, Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos lifted their black-gloved fists as the national anthem was played after they won the gold and bronze medals in the men’s 200-meter sprint — a gesture seen as radical and an endorsement of black power. Boxer Muhammad Ali, celebrated as an American hero after his death in June, was arrested in 1967 after his refusal to be drafted into the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War was seen as an act of civil disobedience. Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, wrote in his autobiography that he was unable to sing the national anthem or salute the flag.

Former Denver Nuggets point guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was suspended by the NBA after refusing to participate in the national anthem pre-game ceremony in 1996. More recently, NBA players including Derrick Rose and LeBron James have worn T-shirts reading “I Can’t Breathe” in reference to Eric Garner, who was killed by New York City police officers in 2014. Last month, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and James opened the ESPY Awards with a message about gun violence against minorities.

“The outrage we’re seeing in light of the Kaepernick decision … is just another example of our country’s lack of a real understanding of what it means to be a person of color in the United States,” said Penn State historian Crystal Sanders. “Wealth, education, attire … none of that prevents us from being victims of racial discrimination.”

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