Athletes & Activism

The 3 Most Influential Athletes who took a stand for Social Justice.

Several African-American athletes who have advocated heavily for social justice

Whether it be the Black Lives Matter movement, protests against the Vietnam war, protests against racial discrimination and most recently, tensions between China and the NBA, sports athletes have been very effective at causing social change. 

The reason is these superstar athletes have an incredibly large fan base behind them. The platform they have to voice their opinion is unparallelled to any other industry. These are three of the most influential athletes and their social change.  

The People’s Champion

Muhammad Ali is undoubtedly one of the greatest boxers to enter the ring. His devastating power combined with his untouchable agility, made him a force to be reckoned with.

Ali showcased his cool, calm and composed nature back in 1967, refusing to join the army during the Vietnam War for religious reasons. US forces didn’t take to kindly to such a famous face being so fervently anti-war. Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title, banned from boxing, just narrowly avoiding jail time, and then fined $10,000 for his actions.

Muhammad Ali (Left) advocating alongside Martin Luther King (Right)

The punishment handed out by the American government was very harsh and unjust. Ali says it best in his public broadcast statement to the country, essentially stating that the Vietnamese people and their culture did absolutely nothing wrong or harmful towards him. Fighting in a war would resolve nothing. 

Seven years later, Ali had the last laugh. He knocked out his opponent (George Foreman) and rightfully reclaimed his prestigious heavyweight title.   

The Knee

It’s a Monday night, Week 1 of the 2016 NFL season, and Colin Kaepernick is about to make one of the biggest statements in NFL history. 

Tension is at an all-time high between the police force and the African-American community, during the wake of police injustice towards black males. Such as the infamous George Zimmerman case or Eric Garner’s death, to name a few. 

Eric Reid (Left) kneels alongside teammate Colin Kaepernick (Right) raising awareness to police injustice

So what does Colin Kaepernick do, he takes a stand on what he feels and believes is right. Better yet, he actually kneels during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” alongside teammate Eric Reid. 

Following the game, Kaepernick told the media “[he was] not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Although their actions were supported by fellow athletes, celebrities and politicians, Kaepernick has been a free agent and unsigned ever since. 


Take a Stand 

It’s considered one of the original protests in sport, also one of the most controversial stands, on a worldwide stage. It’s the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Tommie Smith and John Carlos just won gold and bronze respectively in the 200 metre final. 

Peter Norman (Left) during the medal ceremony beside Tommie Smith (Middle) and John Carlos (Right)

Tommie Smith and John Carlos took to the podium shoeless and each with a black glove. They raised their fists above their bowed heads to silently protest racial discrimination. 

Only a few supported Smith and Carlos, while many conservatives and the mainstream media criticized the pair for their actions. As a result both of them and their families received many death threats. 

It was a strong act of defiance against all of the flaws in society at the time. It seemed that many couldn’t understand the bravery and intestinal fortitude displayed by Smith and Carlos that day. 

Many people don’t know the underlying story. They were also making a statement about poverty, by not wearing shoes.  But the only one not talked about on the podium is Peter Norman, from Australia.  He gave Smith and Carlos the black gloves, that will always be remembered as the fists of freedom. 

Tweet: “Go check out my latest article called ‘Athletes and Activism’ which takes a look at some of the greatest sports athletes, and the impact they have made for social justice. Feel free to share the article with your friends and families all over social media. #Athletes&Activism #SocialChange” @Quinn_MacD

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