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Posts Tagged ‘Athletes’

Leading Issues in the News: Protests in Sports

Washington Redskins Kneel During the National Anthem

By Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA (Washington Redskins National Anthem Kneeling) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

At the beginning of the 2016 NFL preseason, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick ignited a firestorm of controversy by sitting down during the national anthem. He explained his reason for sitting as follows, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.” In the 49ers final preseason game, Kaepernick kneeled during the anthem instead of sitting as a way to show more respect to military members while still protesting the anthem. Throughout the 2016 season, several NFL players joined Kaepernick in “taking a knee” during the anthem.

The protests became more widespread at the start of the 2017 season after President Donald Trump said NFL owners should fire players who kneel during the national anthem. In the games following Trump’s comments, more than 200 players kneeled while other teams linked arms in solidarity.

The protests are not confined to just the NFL. Soccer players and WNBA players have protested by kneeling or by staying in the locker room during the national anthem. Major league baseball player Bruce Maxwell of the Oakland Athletics knelt during the anthem, while NHL player J.T. Brown of the Tampa Bay Lightning raised his fist while standing on the bench during the national anthem.

Although the protests have generated controversy, they have also started conversations over racial discrimination, police brutality and freedom of expression.

This is not the first time athletes have used the world of sports to make a stand over social issues.

Protest at the 1968 Summer Olympics

Extending gloved hands skyward in racial protest, U.S. athletes Tommie Smith, center, and John Carlos stare downward during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner after Smith received the gold and Carlos the bronze for the 200 meter run at the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City on Oct. 16, 1968. Australian silver medalist Peter Norman is at left. (AP Photo) (Credit: Public Domain)

At the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised a fist while the national anthem played during their medal ceremony. The gesture was viewed as a “Black Power” salute and became front page news around the globe. The athletes stated they were there to express African-American strength and unity, protest black poverty, and remember victims of lynching.

On October 17, 1968, the International Olympic Committee convened and determined that Smith and Carlos were to be stripped of their medals for violating the fundamental principles of the Olympic spirit.

Forty-nine years later, that moment at the Olympics continues to reverberate through sports.

Learn more about the current national anthem protests as well as the historical context by visiting SIRS Issues Researcher and eLibrary. Not a customer? Free trials are available.

Loving the LOVE at the Olympics!

Brazilian Flag and Olympic Logo

Brazilian Flag and Olympic Logo (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons [Public Domain])

What makes the Olympics so beloved?

Perhaps it is because we, the spectators, are satiated with incredible competition and mind-blowing athleticism.

Perhaps it is because we enjoy witnessing the thrill of victory…and yes, even the agony of defeat.

Perhaps it is because we want to feel as if we are a part of something magnificent, something bigger than ourselves, something shared with most of the world.

Perhaps it is because we are inspired by the edited Olympic coverage of athletes’ personal lives…our heartstrings are pulled and our own dreams come into focus–if only for a moment.

But I think there is something more that keeps us watching, keeps us coming back, keeps us gratified. Something absolutely grand.

Joy. Harmony. Peace. LOVE.

Open hearts abound during the Olympic Games. Like when…

Michael Phelps hugged his teammate Caeleb Dressel, the young swimmer who was overcome with emotion after their team won the gold in the Men’s 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay.

…gymnast Louis Smith of Great Britain sincerely congratulated gymnast Alexander Naddour of the United States for winning the bronze medal in pommel horse.

…Jen Kish, the team captain of Canada’s women’s rugby team, found her father in the stands after the team’s bronze-medal win.

…gymnast Laurie Hernandez of the United States held up her team-winning gold medal to her father…and he ecstatically and emotionally fist-pumped back to her.

Filipina weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz celebrated with her coach, Alfonsito Aldanete, after her second lift of the competition. She won the silver medal.

…gymnasts Diego Hypolito and Arthur Mariano of Brazil tearfully and exuberantly rejoiced after winning silver and bronze for their floor routines, respectively.

…Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa set the world record in the men’s 400m–and we watched his 74-year-old great-grandmother (who is his coach) celebrating in the stands. And then larger-than-life runner Usain Bolt congratulated him.

These astonishingly genuine moments are, simply put, human moments. They transcend the thrill of victory…these moments are sincere human connections, which is what makes them so gratifying to witness.

They are why I watch the Olympics.

How about you? What keeps bringing you back to the Olympic Games?

SKS and SIRS Discoverer honor the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with Spotlights of the Month, featuring articles and Web sites on Olympic history, athletes, and moments. Join us in celebrating this international event.

My Hour with The Greatest

In the summer of 1987, on a blazing hot and humid Sunday morning around 8 a.m., while attending the University of Louisville, I was walking alone toward the campus student center to have a bit of breakfast, catch up with friends, and study for a while. Although it was early Sunday morning and it was during the summer session of classes when most students aren’t in school, the campus still seemed strangely deserted. There was not a soul anywhere that I could see. As I made my way through the Quad onto the oblong roundabout that circled in front of the student center, I saw a step van parked along the street with a man sitting on the back of it, all alone, and a stack of books behind him in the back of the van. As I neared the van it began to dawn on me that I was looking at one of my childhood heroes, Muhammad Ali. I thought, “what, are you kidding me?” My eyes glazed over. I was shell shocked. My first thought was “what was a man like him doing here sitting alone on the back of a van early on a Sunday morning?” My initial knee-jerk reaction was to turn around and walk the other way. How was I going to act? And, for that matter, what was I going to say to him? I imagined myself going into some kind of Jackie Gleason/Ralph Kramden character stuttering to spit out the words.

As a child growing up in the 1960s, like a lot of kids from the Louisville area, I revered Muhammad Ali. I vividly remember sitting next to the radio with my father listening to the round-by-round reports of Ali’s first monumental bout with Sonny Liston. That was when he was known as Cassius Clay. Shortly after that fight with Liston, Ali converted to Islam and changed his name. In his subsequent fights with both Floyd Patterson and Ernie Terrell they each taunted him for his conversion and name change and refused to call him by his Muslim name. He defeated both. Four years later after the Terrell fight, and after he had been banned from fighting and was stripped of his title due to his refusal to enter the draft for the Vietnam War, I listened to (and years later watched) all three bouts against Joe Frazier, and the ultimate boxing match against George Foreman in the famous “Rumble in the Jungle.” After Ali upset Foreman, when no one gave him any chance, it only added to his legend.

Of course, as it turned out, prize fighting and his subsequent celebrity became only a part of Muhammad’s life, and ultimately proved to be a platform for the main causes of his life: Islam, justice, humanitarianism, and peace. It seems ironic that a man who earned a living beating the daylights out of another man would be well-suited for the cause of peace and justice. But as the great World War II general Douglas McArthur once said, “the soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.” Considering Muhammad’s background growing up in segregated Louisville in the 1950s as a young African American, enduring the contempt for his religious conversion, and making comeback after comeback in the boxing ring, among other things, in my mind he was like a soldier. Many older military veterans, especially Vietnam veterans, will take that as an insult because of Ali’s refusal to enter the Vietnam draft. This is understandable. But it is undeniable that Ali’s unwavering religious convictions and social consciousness could not be denied. He was willing to pay the price for his convictions, and he did. He was not only a man of supreme confidence in and out of the ring, but he was also a man of principle and character of the first order. My encounter with Ali on the campus of the University of Louisville that summer day only strengthened that belief.

After my initial fright of seeing Ali in front of me, something kept my pace toward this man sitting alone on the back of that van. I needed to do this. It had been two or three years since Muhammad’s diagnosis for Parkinson’s Disease, so when I walked up and nervously shook his hand we were both shaking while we shook each other’s hand. He smiled and recognized my nervousness right away, pointing to his slightly shaking hand. I introduced myself and immediately told him that I was one of his biggest fans. He reached back and retrieved from the stack of books behind him an Islamic prayer book, which he gave me, and I still have to this day. He proceeded to tell me a little bit about Islam. Right away he made me feel comfortable to be around him, and I finally relaxed. His slowness in speech was apparent, but he was still able to speak quite well. More than anything, the gleam in his eyes told me everything about him: Peace.

So there I sat on the back of a van, at 8 o’clock on a Sunday morning talking with Muhammad Ali for what seemed like an hour, but in reality was probably no more than 10 minutes. Time froze for me, it seemed. We talked about some of his fights, particularly the first Frazier fight and the “Rumble in the Jungle.” We discussed family and the places where we both grew up. Then suddenly, like the lifting of a veil, a small crowd of people appeared and the discussion was over. It was as if I had just woken from a dream. I quickly got up, shook his hand again, told him how grateful I was to meet him, and we said our goodbyes. A swarm of people quickly surrounded him.

Oddly enough, when I first greeted him and we began talking, he started to sign the prayer book for me, but I interrupted him and told him he didn’t have to. At that time in my college career I was in a sort of a strange phase of irreverence for all things celebrity and felt a sort of bravado for looking down at people with fame. I guess I was the typical rebellious college student. When I kindly refused his autograph, he looked at me with a twinkle in his eyes and smiled. I think right then he seemed to have gotten me and tacitly acknowledged what I was saying, even though I didn’t even really know what I was saying. That iconoclastic attitude seemed to have melted away from me immediately after meeting him. But when the crowd swarmed around Ali it was like I was being swept away at sea. I never got him to sign the book and I never got to meet him again.

All these years later, looking back, the most important things that I came away from my encounter with Muhammad Ali was the appreciation of his humanity and how I eventually came to the idea that all people deserve respect, understanding, and compassion regardless of their beliefs, ethnicity, race, or disability. Our discussion about Islam, peace, and kindness toward all people, although brief, eventually served as one of my compass points on how to respect other people’s beliefs, especially to those people who have different ones than mine; which, as it turns out, really aren’t all that different. But our discussion also served as an instructional guide for me, particularly now as Muslims observe this time, their holy month of Ramadan, in understanding those good people who I have encountered over the years who practice the religion of Islam, and those to whom I have been extremely close who have recently found comfort in the Muslim faith. And for that alone, I thank him.