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Home / Articles / Columnists / Sports Feature /  Athletic Protests Always A Part Of Our Sporting History
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Monday, October 5,2020

Athletic Protests Always A Part Of Our Sporting History

By Mark Tudino  
As we work our way through this most unusual sports Fall, I’m struck by two thoughts: first, how odd it is to watch most sporting events without a live audience present; and second, how little I care about most of the outcomes. Which is not to say I don’t care about sports. It’s just that the outcomes seem trivial, even irrelevant, when compared to the real world events which keep intruding upon the games.

For a while, the athletes and the sports administrators seemed to learn how to carry on during the pandemic. I previously opined that I didn’t think it could be done. I was wrong. The NBA bubble, wherein all players, coaches and administrators live, work, and exist within a confined community in Orlando, worked. There were occasional breaches (looking at you Lou Williams), but for the most part everyone bought in. Same with the NHL, where Toronto and Edmonton hosted teams in a similarly confined environment, and have been very successful. Major League baseball had a rough start (see the Florida Marlins), but even with the challenge of travel – and with it the greater chance of exposure to the virus – for the most part, the principals have bought into the idea and abided by the spirit of the rules. College and professional football (as of this writing) are planning on conducting a regular season. Even the Big 10 might get back in the game, but will do so with fingers crossed. Nonetheless, sports were moving forward – or so we thought.

Then came August 23, 2020 and breaking news from Kenosha, Wisconsin, where 29-year-old Jacob Blake was shot seven times by police, paralyzing him from the waist down. And everything stopped.

Events surrounding the shooting are still being investigated, but anyone who saw the video was disturbed, to say the least. Before long, rumors circulated that the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team would not play, in protest of the shooting and to make a statement in support of racial justice. Soon other squads followed, and the NBA was forced to acknowledge the obvious. It cancelled slates of its playoff games. Hockey, baseball and other sports followed suit, to the point where the sports world essentially came to a halt. For four days not a ball was bounced, kicked or hit in protest of racial inequality. Battle lines were quickly drawn and, predictably, most people fell along the fault lines of their political beliefs. Complaints arose about the unpleasant mixing of politics and sports. Please.

Protesting athletic events is nothing new. The Mexico City Summer Olympics of 1968 saw John Carlos and Tommy Smith raise their fists in protest, and in support of racial equality, following their finishes in the 200-meter final. For their insolence, both men were kicked off the team, their medals confiscated (eventually returned to them years later. By the way in that same Olympiad the American heavyweight boxing champion waved a small flag after winning the gold medal. His name? George Foreman.) Throughout time, American sport stars have involved themselves in the name of social justice protest. BYU football in 1969. Ali. The 1980 Moscow boycott. Jackie Robinson, who broke the color line 17 years before the Civil Rights Act. American Olympians before the 1936 Berlin games. Kaepernick.

Do we like it? Probably not. But many apparently now agree with current sentiments, with a recent poll showing 56% of Americans in support of the sports protests, a marked change from only a few years ago. So, the next time you sing about the land of the free and home of the brave, there is a good chance it should mean something different to you. And that’s a good thing.



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