5 Incredible Moments In Sports History When Athletes Stood Up Against Racism
We'd like to think of sports as another world, one that is a built upon a meritocracy. Relatively devoid of the bias, politics and classism that quite simply ruins lives; sports, in themselves, can sometimes seem like a getaway from the real world.
But then there are moments when we are given a frank reminder that sports do not form a separate utopia, and you won't have to look far back for the last one.
When Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was caught on tape scolding his mistress for associating with African-Americans, he became just another instance of racism rearing its ugly head, disturbing the peace in what is supposed to be the most enjoyable time on the basketball calendar. It was a shocking development that required a response.
On Sunday, the Clippers players, who were put in an incredibly awkward position, provided one of many anti-Sterling demonstrations when they decided to warm up with their team apparel inside out so that the Clippers logo would not show on their chests.
The players demonstration was one that was reminiscent of many moments in time during which athletes were forced to take a stand against racism.
Here are some of the best:
Jesse Owens At The 1936 Olympics
With Adolph Hitler having assumed power in Germany in 1933, two years after Berlin was awarded the 1936 Olympic games, the world's most heralded athletic event was in the awkward position of being held at the epicenter of one of the world's most intolerant states.
Hitler had only allowed members of the Aryan race to participate for Germany, led by the belief that all others were inferior.
The Allied nations of World War II had their say on the matter when Jesse Owens gave Hitler a kick in the teeth.
His performance in Berlin that year was one for the ages, winning four gold medals in the 100 meter relay, 200 meter relay, long jump and 4×100 meter relay.
It was a hero's performance, one that celebrated with a ticker tape parade in New York City upon Owens' return to the US.
Jackie Robinson And Pee Wee Reese
Across the bridge out in Brooklyn, the borough Robinson made his mark in with the Dodgers, there stands a statue outside of MCU Park, home of the New York Mets' class A minor league affiliate, the Brooklyn Cyclones. The statue commemorates and immortalizes one of the most most significant events of Robinson's career.
The moment came while the Dodgers were on the road during Robinson's earliest years with Brooklyn, in the late 1940s.
Robinson, still fairly new to the league and still subject to the nation's general lack of racial tolerance, was receiving heckles, taunts and death threats from the away crowd.
It was then that shortstop Pee Wee Reese, long known as Robinson's greatest companion within the Brooklyn squad, walked over to where his abused teammate was standing.
An embrace of Reese's arm around Robinson's shoulder later, the abuse had stopped and so did the moment, because it has since been frozen in time and etched into baseball lore.
1966 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship
In the 1965-66 college basketball season, history was made by Texas Western College. Now known as the University of Texas at El Paso, the school coached by Josh Lucas consisted of seven black players and five white players, a mix that was far from the norm for a team that was as high in the rankings as the Southern team.
In a season that was filled with raised eyebrows, racist taunts and tangible acts of discrimination, Texas Western finished the season before accomplishing one of the greatest underdog victories in NCAA tournament history.
Their 72-65 win against a collegiate powerhouse in Kentucky wasn't only noteworthy for beating the odds, but for the fact that Lucas had decided to field an all-black starting lineup in the most publicized game of the year.
The win, and the manner in which it came, only emphasized what Texas Western had already proven throughout the season.
1968 Summer Olympics
After a win in the 200 meter relay at the 1968 Olympic games in Mexico City, Tommie Smith, along with fellow teammate Josh Carlos, who won the bronze, had their voices heard without uttering a word.
The two sprinters bowed their heads and raised their hands on the winners' podium with gloves on, a salute to black power at a time in America when it was needed.
Following the demonstration, Smith said in the press conference, “If I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro.
We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight.”
AC Milan's Players Quit A Match
In soccer, players have never been shy about being vocal in regards to the racial taunts they faced from crowds, but few had ever gone to the lengths that Ghanian star Kevin Prince-Boateng did in January 2013.
After being heckled by opposition fans in a friendly match against an Italian fourth division side, the then AC Milan midfielder picked up the ball and kicked it towards the crowds, before taking off his jersey and leaving the game altogether.
His unprecedented move was backed by his teammates, who followed him into the locker room in a show of support after their efforts to calm him down were futile.
“We were annoyed from the beginning,” said Massimo Ambrosini, then AC Milan's captain. “We wanted to give a strong signal. We could not continue the game in an atmosphere like this.”
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