Every February, the National Basketball Association celebrates Black History Month with new socks, shoes, uniforms, etc., and rightly so. While the new apparel is usually just to increase sales, the story of the NBA, and the rest of the sports world in the United States couldn’t be told without the rich history of African Americans.
When discussing an interview featuring NBA superstars LeBron James and Kevin Durant, Fox journalist Laura Ingraham infamously said, “It’s always unwise to seek political advice from someone who gets paid $100 million a year to bounce a ball… Shut up and dribble.” The interview, which saw James and Durant discussing politics in America, is a testament to the amount of influences that black athletes have had in the United States.
In one of the most infamous pictures in the sports world, Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists on the podium at the 1968 Summer Olympics. The gesture was seen as a violation of International Olympic Committee rules, and Smith and Carlos were both suspended from the US team. Once back home, Smith and Carlos’ families were subjected to death threats. At the time, the two were ostracized, but in 2008, they received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPY Awards.
Jackie Robinson completely revolutionized the sports world, and specifically Major League Baseball. Robinson broke the racial barrier in professional baseball in 1947, when he started for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Prior to this, African American’s had been forced to play in the ‘Negro leagues.’ He later would win the MVP, the first African American to do so. The MLB celebrates “Jackie Robinson Day” every April 15, in his honor.
While the racial divide in America is not what it once was, athletes like LeBron James have huge impacts all across the country. In response to Ingraham’s comment, James posted a picture of the words, “I AM MORE THAN AN ATHLETE,” and the hashtag, “wewillnotshutupanddribble.” James has been an active member in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, most recently opening a new public school. The “I Promise School” is intended to help children from poor communities have a good school, and finish school all the way through high school.
Considered by many as the “Greatest of All Time,” Muhammad Ali was known for his boxing skills, but perhaps even more so his work in the community. Ali was very active in politics, in the aid of refugees, and in the fight against Parkinson’s disease. As a Muslim, Ali was also very outspoken against the Vietnam War, voluntarily going to jail after refusing to be inducted into the armed forces.
If there is one name synonymous with political activism in sports, its Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick’s protest in the NFL cost him his job, and subjected him to hate around the country, and even from the President himself. Kaepernick’s protest, which included kneeling and sitting for the National Anthem, was explained back in 2016. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
While not everyone agrees with the stances taken by these athletes, you cannot deny the impact they have had on both the world of sports and the world in general. Sports has such a wide influence, the biggest players are usually revered all over the world. February isn’t the only month black athletes should be celebrated. But it is especially important to remember those who have impacts on and off the field, court or diamond, whatever sport they may choose.