Making a Statement : Eight Instances of Athletes Getting Political

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We’re at an interesting time in the crossroads of sports. This weekend Jason Collins became the first openly gay player to compete in one of the four major US sports leagues. This came just days after Michael Sam courageously came out before the NFL draft. Couple that with activism and statements both leading up to and at the Sochi games, and political activism by athletes has been in the news quite a bit recently.

That hasn’t always been the case in pro sports, which makes the following eight examples so special. This list isn’t meant to be all inclusive, rather it points out some recent examples, while not forgetting some of the greatest moments of political activism by athletes. Where should recent actions fighting for gay rights stand on this list?

8) Curt Schilling

Endorsing George W. Bush

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Had Curt Schilling been born without the ability to speak or type, he might very well be one of the most celebrated pitchers in the history of baseball. Instead, most fans just wish he’d shut his mouth. Schilling tends to say whatever he wants about whomever he wants without much regard for what people think. Maybe that’s why he and George W. Bush are such a great pair, they’re both speak-first-think-later self-aggrandizing idiots.

7) Tim Tebow

Eye Black Bible Verses

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Not so much a political move as a devoutly religious one, but Tim Tebow’s eye black bible verses deserve some recognition for the quarterback’s love of God. Despite the NFL being the most overtly religious of the North American professionals, he again made an impact with his religious beliefs when he brought them to that league. Now he’s more minister than athlete.

6) Carlos Delgado

Protests Iraq War by Refusing to Stand for “God Bless America”

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In his prime, Carlos Delgado swung a hefty bat and clobbered balls with authority. He was also a long standing opponent of American navy presence around the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, and chose to protest the issue in 2004 along with the Iraq war by not standing for “God Bless America” during the 7th inning stretch. Delgado became the target of booing, especially when the Toronto Blue Jays stopped in New York.

5) Pat Tillman

Leaves NFL to Fight in Afghanistan

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No ladies, that’s not Tim Riggins. Pat Tillman would ultimately lose his life as an American soldier in Afghanistan, but his devotion to his country stands as one of the most unselfish (or just crazy) plays by a professional athlete ever. Tillman was a pretty good football player, and he passed up millions of dollars to fight for what he believes in.

4) Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf

Refusal to Stand for “The Star Spangled Banner”

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Abdul-Rauf, born Chris Wayne Jackson, a former third overall pick by the Denver Nuggets was disciplined with a one game suspension in 1996 for his refusal to stand for the national anthem. To Abdul-Rauf, who converted to Islam in 1991, the American flag and its song stood for tyranny. Upon reaching an agreement with NBA officials to stand for the anthem with his eyes closed and head-down, Abdul-Rauf returned to NBA action but he’s still best know for his controversial decision to not show respect for “Old Glory”.

3) Muhammad Ali

Refuses to Fight in Vietnam

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Nobody ever accused Muhammed Ali of not being charismatic. In 1964, the “Greatest of All-Time” refused to enter the American army heading to Vietnam based on his religious beliefs and a personal opposition to the war. Ali’s refusal to fight would cost him his boxing title and the right to participate in the sport for several years after being declared a “draft dodger”. It was in 1966 when Ali quipped the famous line; “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong…”. Ali returned to boxing in 1970 and would continue to compete until 1981 when he retired.

2) John Carlos and Tommie Smith

1968 Olympics “Black Power Salute”

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After Tommie Smith and John Carlos finished first and third respectively in a 200 meter race, the two Americans sported one black glove each to the podium to accept their medals. As “The Star Spangled Banner” played over the P.A., Smith and Carlos both bowed their heads and raised a fist for the “black power salute” as a show of solidarity to the struggles of African-American athletes and blacks in general across America.

1) Jackie Robinson

Breaking Baseball’s Color Barrier

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When Jackie Robinson debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 he wasn’t so much protesting segregation in baseball as he was taking a courageous step for the betterment of the entire human race. Robinson disregarded the taunts and threats of people everywhere by participating in what was historically a white man’s league. In his first season in the Majors, Robinson not only endured racial slurs from fans but opponents as well. He would end up winning the American League Rookie of the Year award after batting .297 with 12 home runs, 29 steals, and 125 runs. Today, the name Jackie Robinson is synonymous with baseball and bravery having compiled a tremendous career and putting an end to baseball’s 60 years of racial segregation.

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