Political Protests Have Always Been a Part of Sports History

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, the drama surrounding the protests in the NFL has made its way into your living room (or, smartphone) in recent days. The saga that began when ex-San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick began taking a knee during the national anthem as a form of protest was re-ignited by comments made by U.S. President Donald Trump at a recent rally. Kaepernick’s protest stemmed from his issue with police brutality committed against minorities and has been a hot topic amongst sports fans and politicos alike. Trump through gasoline on that fire this past Friday when he stated, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b*tch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!” That sent the sports world and beyond into an uproar, which grew even louder over the weekend as Trump fanned the flames with multiple tweets reiterating his stance. This resulted in a number of players and executives taking action with some players deciding to kneel during the national anthem, others locking arms, and some even staying in the locker room altogether.

The protests and reaction to them by the U.S. President has been the buzz-du-jour, but this is by no means the first time a major political protest has taken place on the grand stage of a major sporting event; not even close. In fact, here are 3 times that a sporting event was a platform upon which a political statement was made:

1. Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf

Former NBAer Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf drew headlines when in 1996 he refused to stand for the “National Anthem” before the games. Abdul-Rauf, who entered the league in 1990 as Chris Jackson before becoming Muslim, was suspended by then-commissioner David Stern. The two eventually worked out a compromise where Abdul-Rauf would stand during the anthem but close his eyes and recite a Muslim prayer while it took place.

2. Carlos Delgado

photo: SI.com

In 2004, former MLBer Carlos Delgado decided to sit during the 7th inning stretch as “God Bless America” was played. Delgado believed the song was representative of the wars taking place in Iraq and Afghanistan and at the time which he didn’t agree with. “It’s a very terrible thing that happened on September 11th It’s (also) a terrible thing that happened in Afghanistan and Iraq, … I just feel so sad for the families that lost relatives and loved ones in the war. But I think it’s the stupidest war ever,” said Delgado.

3. The Phoenix Suns

photo: NBA.com

Late in the 2009-2010 NBA season, the Phoenix Suns decided to protest when a controversial law was passed in the state of Arizona that was meant to stem the tide of illegal immigration. Being that the state has a large community of latin-Americans, the team thought it was unfair and decided to protest. To do so, they decided to wear jerseys that said “Los Suns” as a way of showing their solidarity.

So while sports is meant to be a place where we escape the “real world,” every once in a while it becomes a platform for individuals and teams alike to express their concerns with what is taking place outside of their fields and arenas. The protests we saw this past weekend weren’t the first, and they surely will not be the last.