5 Most Controversial Athlete Protests

by Rob Joyce

Colin Kaepernick is dominating headlines across the country this week, but not for his play on the field. The 49ers quarterback refused to stand during the playing of the national anthem prior to San Francisco’s pre-season game on Friday because he didn’t want to “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color”.

The Twitter-sphere would have you believe Kaepernick is the first athlete to publicize his beliefs in a controversial manner. Quite the opposite in fact – he is far from the first, and many others have done it on scales much larger than that of an NFL pre-season game.

Missouri Tigers football team:

(Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

(Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

The University of Missouri was the source of national news when a number of incidents of a racial nature occurred on campus. Protests broke out, with students calling for the resignation of the school’s president, Tim Wolfe, claiming the university did not act appropriately in light of the events. With three games left in the season some players on the football team were willing to sacrifice their season in support of the protests. With the support of head coach Gary Pinkel, they threatened to boycott all football activities unless Wolfe resigned. Two days later, he left his post as president and the Tigers didn’t miss any games.

Muhammad Ali:

(Photo by R. McPhedran/Express/Getty Images)

(Photo by R. McPhedran/Express/Getty Images)

Ali was the heavyweight champion of the world in 1966, but was a divisive political figure for his very vocal support of racial pride and opposition of a white-dominated world. When he was drafted into the military for the Vietnam War, Ali refused to enlist, and was charged with draft evasion. He was stripped of his titles, took his case up to the Supreme Court and won, losing four years of his prime, but soaring from a famous athlete to perhaps the most recognizable human being on Earth until his death this past summer.

Phoenix Suns:

(Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

(Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

In 2010 the state of Arizona passed a controversial immigration law that civil rights groups, President Obama and others criticized for its ability to lead to racial profiling. Suns owner Robert Sarver was also against the bill, and wanted a way to protest it. For Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals he proposed the team wear jerseys that said “Los Suns” to honor the Latino community. The players were in favor and wore the uniforms for the game.

Sandy Koufax:

(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

One of the greatest pitchers of all-time was scheduled to be on the mound for baseball’s biggest stage, Game 1 of the 1965 World Series. However, the game was played on Yom Kippur, and being a devout Jewish man, Koufax opted not to pitch in observance of the religious holiday. Instead he started Game 2, tossed a three-hit shutout in Game 7 and was named World Series MVP.

Tommie Smith & John Carlos:

(Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images)

(Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images)

At the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, Americans Smith and Carlos took gold and bronze, respectively, in the 200-meter dash. On the podium as the national anthem played, both runners raised their gloved fists in a sign of solidarity towards those fighting against apartheid in South Africa and segregation in the U.S. At the time the act was widely disavowed, as they were suspended from the U.S. team and moved from the Olympic Village. Today, the image of the raised fists is an iconic symbol of the Civil Rights Movement.

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