After the tragic death of George Floyd, protests have been taking place all over the world. Many Athletes have been taking a stand against Racism. A lot of NBA players have been seen on the streets protesting alongside the masses. Since the resumption of the premier league every player takes a knee before the game starts to signify their support to the movement ”Black Lives Matter”. Although there have been many great protests, there are many athletes who have not had the same good fortune. Many athletes have faced serious backlash and have damaged their careers in the fight for justice.
1968 Mexico Olympics- The Black Power Salute
The Black Power Salute was one of the very first protests taken by athletes against racism and discrimination.
African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos were the driving forces behind this protest. Both athletes were advocates of racial pride and believed in taking dramatic action rather than implementing incremental change.
Ever since the assassination of great civil rights leader, Martin Luther King jr just a few months back Racial tensions were at a height and there had been an immense number of riots all around the globe.The civil rights movement had paved the way for the Black power movement.Smith and Carlos helped organize the Olympic project for Human rights, a group made specifically for social awareness and black pride. The group saw the Olympics as the perfect platform to protest for better treatment of people of different race, caste and gender.They demanded the hiring of more black personnel, they cancelled the invitation for countries still practicing apartheid. Their proposal included the idea of potentially boycotting the Olympics altogether but they decided against it as the games could provide a bigger platform to spread their message.
A few days before the Olympics thousands of unarmed students had gathered in the city of Mexico to plan a protest but things went haywire when the government sent bulldozers to disperse the crowd gathered and it resulted in the troops firing at the masses and around 4000 deaths were reported in this unfortunate accident.
Although deeply disturbed and reluctant to participate in the event the athletes decided to go ahead with it.During an interview in 2008, Smith stated “it was a cry for freedom and for human rights, We had to be seen because we could not be heard.”
On October 16, 1986, in the 200 metre finals Tommie Smith bagged a gold medal and although it seemed as if teammate John Carlos would place second he was beaten by Australian racer, Peter Norman at the very end of the race. Before the two athletes performed their bold act of rebellion they told Norman of their intentions. Although Norman did not raise his hand during the national anthem he wore a badge of human rights making his stand clear.
Tommie Smith and John Carlos took off their shoes and only wore black socks on their feet before going on the podium- the black socks symbolized poverty. Smith wore a black scarf around his neck to represent solidarity and Carlos wore a bead necklace to remember those who had been lynched or killed and had never been prayed for. Both the athletes also wore black gloves on their right hand and raised their fists during the anthem to symbolize black power.
Once the anthem ended there was a huge backlash by the crowd as they were responded with racist chants and insults. The athletes were rushed out of the stadium and kicked out of the Olympic Village . The two athletes were suspended by the Us national team too. Although Carlos and Smith were later on apologized to and brought back into the fold, the Australian athlete faced much bigger issues. He was deliberately left out of the team and was forced to retire from the sport. He began to suffer from depression, alcoholism and addiction. Norman passed away in 2006 without being acknowledged for his contributions to the sport.
Symbol of Oppression
Chris Jackson was born on 9th march 1969 and had been diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome later on in life. Chris had an exceptional college career and to this day he is the only college basketball freshman to average 30 points per game.
In 1990 he was drafted to the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the draft. Later on he converted to Islam and changed his name to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf.
After a few average seasons he got into groove around the 95-96 seasons when he dropped 51 on the Jazz.
Although he was really developing on the court people started noticing that he would never stand up for the National Anthem. He would usually stay in the locker room or stretch on the sidelines until the anthem was over. In an interview he stated that he did not stand up for the anthem as he believed that the National flag of America was nothing but a symbol of oppression and tyranny.
On the same day NBA cited a new rule making it mandatory for all players to stand in a dignified posture during the anthem. When Abdul-Rauf refused to do so he was suspended without pay until he agreed to respect the anthem. He was also fined $32,000. He finally came to a consensus with the league that he would stand for the anthem but will be chanting his own prayers at the time. He said that he’d be praying for all those who were suffering.
His return to the league was not taken well as he was being bombarded with racial slurs and people were asking for his US citizenship to be seized. He started being shunned by his team and was forced to leave the team due to lack of playing time. He then had to leave and play in Turkey and many other countries as his NBA career was over. In 2001, the letters KKK were spray-painted on his house. The people also burned down his house and no one was ever charged guilty for it.
Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf has paved the way for many Athletes such as Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick kneeled down during the National anthem as he too believed it was a symbol of oppression. Abdul-Rauf spoke out and told everyone he supported Kaepernick.
To this day Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf stands by his beliefs and says that he was right not to be swayed from his religion due to the the public demand.