When have people in sports stood up for a cause? (lesser known edition)
May 15, 2017 8:10 AM   Subscribe

Everyone knows the black power salute of the olympians. And Colin Kapernick. But are there some lesser known examples of people in sport taking a stand for something they believed in? Politics. Racial issues. Sexual Equality. That sort of thing. Or any other actually.
posted by rileyray3000 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (38 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
NFL player Chris Kluwe was very vocal in his support of same-sex marriage. He feels he was let go from his team (Minnesota Vikings) for being that vocal about it.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 8:24 AM on May 15, 2017 [17 favorites]

The away end of Sheffield United's ground used to be named after Jessica Ennis, but she asked for her name to be removed when they tried to re-sign convicted rapist Ched Evans, after he'd been released early from his prison sentence.

Also: Billie Jean King.
posted by rd45 at 8:26 AM on May 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

You may be interested in the writing of Dave Zirin and his book A People's History of Sports.
posted by latkes at 8:28 AM on May 15, 2017 [5 favorites]

Eric Liddell.
posted by JimN2TAW at 8:29 AM on May 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

At the Olympic marathon finish line in Rio de Janeiro last year, Feyisa Lilesa from Ethiopia staged a protest that he said could get him arrested or killed back home. The 26-year-old runner crossed his wrists and held his arms over his head as he approached the crossing line as he came in second. It was a gesture of solidarity with the Oromo protests that have taken place in the country since November 2015.
posted by Kwadeng at 8:30 AM on May 15, 2017 [7 favorites]

Sandy Koufax famously refused to pitch in Game 1 of the 1965 World Series, which fell on Yom Kippur, although in 2000 he said "It was just a thing of respect. I wasn't trying to make a statement..."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:42 AM on May 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

Etan Thomas (a frequent collaborator with Dave Zirin already mentioned) championed political causes, notably speaking out against the early 2000's wars, during and after his nba career.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 8:44 AM on May 15, 2017

Gregg Popovich, coach of the NBA's San Antonio Spurs, has made several insightful statements about Donald Trump.
Usually, things happen in the world and you go to work and you got your family and you got your friends and you do what you do, but to this day I feel like there's a cloud, a pall over the whole country, in a paranoid, surreal sort of way. It's got nothing to do with the Democrats losing the election. It's got to do with the way one individual conducts himself, and it's embarrassing, it's dangerous to our institutions, and what we all stand for and what we expect the country to be. But for this individual, he's in a gameshow. And everything that happens begins and ends with him, not our people o our country. Every time he talks about those things, that's just a ruse. That's just disingenuous, cynical,
and fake.
Steve Kerr, coach of the Golden State Warriors, has also had insightful comments.
I would just say that as someone whose family member was a victim of terrorism, having lost my father, if we’re trying to combat terrorism by banishing people from coming to this country, by really going against the principles of what our country is about and creating fear, it’s the wrong way of going about it. If anything, we could be breeding anger and terror. So I’m completely against what’s happening.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:46 AM on May 15, 2017 [7 favorites]

Toni Smith, a Division III women's college basketball player, turned her back on the flag during the anthem her senior year, to protest the not-yet-started Iraq War.

Back during Gulf War I when sports teams started to wear flag patches on their uniforms, Marco Lokar, a men's college basketball player at St. John's (NYC, big-time basketball esp. at the time this happened), refused to wear one because of his pacifism. He wound up quitting the team and fleeing the country out of fear for his and his family's safety.
posted by Ampersand692 at 8:57 AM on May 15, 2017

It didn't come to it so I guess I can't say if they would have, but the NHL player's association appeared ready to boycott in solidarity with the women's national team over fair wages.
posted by ftm at 9:05 AM on May 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf.

If you're interested in Feyisa Lilesa, I posted an article to the blue about him not too long ago about his life in exile.

Also on the blue fairly recently was this about the US women's hockey team protesting wage inequality (spoiler alert: successful).

While it wasn't social justice-y stuff, Tim Tebow was pretty outspoken about a lot of his beliefs, and that in turn led to reactions to those beliefs from other players.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:05 AM on May 15, 2017

There are a bunch of footballers I can think of off the top of my head. Paul Breitner was very outspoken with his Communist beliefs when he was a player, often quoting Mao and Marx in interviews.

Phillip Lahm, who's about to retire, has also spoken out against right wing populism in German, the annexation of Crimea, and anti-immigration movements in Europe.

Paolo Di Canio is an avowed fascist (but not a rascist he notes), and would often give the fascist salute. Christian Abbiati is another proud fascist.

Also recently Republic of Ireland international (born in Derry) James McClean refused to wear a poppy on his shirt during a Wigan match against Bolton. He said it was because the poppy was no longer just a symbol of those who died in WWI but also many other conflicts, particularly The Troubles. That link has his whole letter to Wigan owner Dave Whelan is in that link.
posted by kendrak at 9:12 AM on May 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

This is very well known, but no one else has mentioned it, so I will. Muhammad Ali refused the Vietnam War draft and was not allowed to box for a while because of it.
posted by FencingGal at 9:14 AM on May 15, 2017 [12 favorites]

WNBA black lives matter protest
posted by jillithd at 9:34 AM on May 15, 2017

Since the Hillsborough disaster, Liverpool FC never gives exclusive interviews to the Sun (who printed a despicable false story slurring fans the day after). Just this year, they've been banned from matches and press conferences.

Everton, their neighbouring club, has just recently banned the Sun for comparing one of their footballers (who has a Nigerian grandfather) to a gorilla.
posted by threetwentytwo at 9:43 AM on May 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

Serena Williams boycotted Indian Wells for 14 years after racist crowd stuff.
posted by mhum at 10:16 AM on May 15, 2017 [6 favorites]

Last month seven of the New England Patriots refused Trumps's invitation to be honored at the White House and sat it out.
posted by pintapicasso at 10:23 AM on May 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

Soccer player Didier Drogba is often credited with helping to stop civil war in Ivory Coast.
posted by monkeymonkey at 10:36 AM on May 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Carlos Delgado a former US baseball player and peace activist protested the Iraq war by silently staying in the dugout during the playing of "God Bless America" The Against Chess Olympiad was a boycott of the Chess Olympiad in 1976 by countries who did not recognize the state of Israel. There are also the Black Armband Protests in Zimbabwe.
posted by jessamyn at 10:37 AM on May 15, 2017

Curt Flood, a Major League Baseball player, refused to be traded in 1969, and took it to court, saying:
I do not regard myself as a piece of property to be bought or sold.
Flood's suit lost in the Supreme Court, but is widely considered to have paved the way to free agency.
posted by brentajones at 11:00 AM on May 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

"Last month seven of the New England Patriots refused Trumps's invitation to be honored at the White House and sat it out."

On the other side, former Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas refused to visit the White House when Obama was president.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:11 AM on May 15, 2017

Brazilian great Socrates was arguably the face of the Democracia Corinthiana, where Corinthians players were given direct control over club operations, this in the final years of the military dictatorship, their motto at the time was "win or lose, always with democracy", and publicly supported the Diretas Já movement. In Mexico, he wore headbands supporting Mexico (after a devastating earthquake) and also social injustices.

A lot of former Yugoslavia players born in the 60s and 70s that still played together until the 90s have, let's say, strong opinions over the borders. There are rumours a player that came here in the mid 90s might have actually been involved in actual fighting and fled.

Lilian Thuram has always been a voice against racism, and has campaigned for other causes such as same-sex marriage and laïcité in France.

In Spain, there's a considerable number of secessionists - Piqué is very outspoken again Madrid in general, and he's booed when the national team plays there (less so in another parts of Spain). Oléguer was even more outspoken in his support for independence, only accepting being in a Spain national team call-up to tell the manager the shirt meant nothing to him, and some 10 years ago penned an article supporting left-wing politics and railing against the Spanish state. I think he was also politically involved in Amsterdam while he was playing for Ajax.

In Italy, some like Paolo di Canio are fascists, others like Lucarelli (who used a big signing bonus to start a left-wing newspaper in Livorno, and used his popularity in the city to lift police bans to fans because if Lucarelli tells the police you're going to behave, you'd better) are communist.

Manager Brian Clough was socialist, and supported unions and picketed with miners, and a lot of northern-born managers of the time (Shankly, Busby, even Alex Ferguson, although he's probably a bit champagne-r than the others) also leaned socialist. Gary Lineker is very outspoken these days, too.
posted by lmfsilva at 11:19 AM on May 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

Bleacher Report, from 2010: 10 Athletes Who Made Bold Political and Social Statements
posted by DrAstroZoom at 11:33 AM on May 15, 2017

Vera Caslavska, Olympic champion in gymnastics, protested the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia by quietly looking down and away while the Soviet national anthem was played during the medal ceremonies for the balance beam and floor exercise event finals at the 1968 Olympics.
posted by creepygirl at 12:13 PM on May 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

Baseball great Roberto Clemente was killed in the crash of an airplane taking aid to victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua.
posted by SemiSalt at 12:30 PM on May 15, 2017

In 1956 Hillsdale College's football team turned down playing in the Tangerine Bowl when they were told their four African American players would not be allowed to play.
posted by lharmon at 12:37 PM on May 15, 2017

Muhammad Ali refused to be drafted for the Vietnam War. He was banned from boxing for three years at the height of his career and his physical peak (he was 25 when he refused).
“My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America,” he said at the time. “And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father. … Shoot them for what? How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.”
posted by kirkaracha at 12:43 PM on May 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

Are you looking for more historical or more contemporary examples?

Tommie Smith and John Carlos (& arguably Peter Norman) at the 1968 Olympics

Art Powell (NYT link)
posted by Salamandrous at 1:34 PM on May 15, 2017

You could have a look at the sporting boycotts of South Africa as a protest against apartheid - plenty to mine more deeply there.
posted by ninazer0 at 3:40 PM on May 15, 2017

Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as a numbered entrant in 1967, when it was still against the rules for women to run in it. (The Boston Marathon did not allow women to participate until 1972 (!).) During the marathon, a race official tried to chase her down to take away her bib and physically remove her from the marathon.

She ran the Boston Marathon again this year, fifty years after that historic first.
posted by Sockin'inthefreeworld at 4:57 PM on May 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

This is definitely less-known and fairly recent. NCAA gymnast Natalee Brown from Oklahoma University does a floor routine inspired by the Syrian refugee crisis. There's a video in that article.
posted by guster4lovers at 4:58 PM on May 15, 2017

The All-Blacks' mascot, Dog, resigned rather than participate in the South Africa tour.
posted by pompomtom at 5:13 PM on May 15, 2017

Bill Russell defended Muhammad Ali, attended the March on Washington, and was the first black head coach in any of the four major US sports leagues.
posted by teekat at 6:50 PM on May 15, 2017

Not an individual, but a whole league. Major League Soccer severed its ties with the Boy Scouts of America right after the Scouts announced their ban on gay leaders or members (they never formally stated that was the reason for severing the tie, but it's widely believed to be the reason). They also launched a league-wide campaign to promote inclusion and diversity, called Don't Cross the Line.
posted by weeyin at 7:27 PM on May 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

Oh right, that reminds me of the You Can Play project (which started with former Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke, and his son Patrick Burke) that I made an FPP about, promoting equal opportunity for LGBT athletes.
posted by jessamyn at 7:41 PM on May 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

There's a number of examples of Muslim players covering up the logos of sponsors from un-Islamic industries:
New Zealand rugby player Sonny Bill Williams covered up the bank logo on his shirt.

In English football, Papiss Cissé refused to wear the Newcastle shirt when they announced a payday loan company as sponsor, though he later agreed to wear the shirt.
posted by Pink Frost at 12:00 AM on May 16, 2017

Brendan Ayanbadejo has also been very vocal in his support of marriage equality and LGBT rights.

Several pro athletes spoke out after Trayvon Martin was killed.
posted by SisterHavana at 2:10 PM on May 17, 2017

Note: These links have auto-playing video/audio.

Five members of the World Cup-winning U.S women's national soccer team filed a wage discrimination complaint against US Soccer last year. As of this spring, there has been progress in the form of raises, bigger bonuses and the same per diems as the men's teams. "The deal happened to come through the day after Equal Pay Day, which is meant to raise awareness about the gender pay gap."

Here's a profile of the players involved + transcript from 60 minutes. And, of course, previously.
posted by juliplease at 8:49 PM on June 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

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