Google search the phrase: “superstar athletes protest.” You’ll notice the entire first page of information is filled with reports of Tommy Smith and Juan Carlos, two African-American track athletes famous for their silent protest against racism during the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.
Smith and Carlos, the gold and silver medal winners of the 200-meter race, used the winner’s platform as a stage to protest by wearing a black glove and raising their fists to show solidarity with the human rights movement at the time.
The only issue with the findings of this search is that it happened nearly 50 years ago. What about the star athletes of today and the mega-athletes of all the decades in between? Have they not used their fame and power to participate in protest for social advancement and equality, just as Smith and Carlos or Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown did during the late ’60s?
The answer to that question is … not very often.
Former AFRO sports writer and New York Times columnist Bill Rhoden suggested in his book, $40 Million Slaves: the Rise, Fall and Redemption of the Black Athlete, originally published in 2006, that many of the Black megastar athletes of the modern age have chosen not to engage in the fight for civil/social rights out of fear of “rocking the conveyor belt” on their way up to the top of their successful careers. They didn’t want to upset corporate america, which controlled the endorsement deals that paid them millions.
But in recent years, a growing trend shows that our most coveted athletes are beginning to stand up and flex their broad voices in protest of civil rights around the world.
LeBron James, perhaps the most famous athlete in the world today, didn’t hesitate to use his power as the face of the NBA, protesting against Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling after TMZ leaked a conversation that revealed the owner’s racially discriminating beliefs. James told reporters, “there’s no room in our league for Donald Sterling.”
LeBron didn’t say there’s no room for Sterling’s behavior, which could have suggested he’d be willing to just forgive, forget, and move on. He made it plain and clear how he felt: he wanted blood. He wanted Sterling gone and wasn’t afraid to voice it. And his voice made an impact as commissioner Adam Silver swiftly investigated Sterling and banned him from the NBA for a lifetime.
James and his Miami Heat teammates protested in similar fashion over Trayvon Martin’s shooting and the racially engulfed trial that followed in 2012. James took to his Twitter account with 12.5 million followers and posted a photo of him and his teammates wearing hooded sweatshirts with their heads bowed down. Countless numbers of star athletes followed suit with similar photos.
James’ star partner-in-crime, Dwyane Wade, took to Twitter again a year later when the trial verdict was announced that Martin’s murderer was founded not guilty. Wade tweeted: “Wow!!! Stunned!!! Saddened as a father!!! Some1 make sense of this verdict for me right now please!!! Don’t worry I’ll wait… How do I explain this to my young boys???”
Earlier this week, Barcelona soccer player Dani Alves was racially taunted when a fan tossed a banana at him during a game April 27 in Spain. Alves responded by picking up the banana, unpeeling it and eating it, before returning to action where he immediately made a corner kick. Athletes around the world responded in protest to the fan’s behavior, posting photos on social networks of themselves eating a banana. After learning of Sterling’s banishment, Alves felt inspired to take another jab at his racist offenders, posting a photo on Twitter of himself posing by his Ferrari sports car, eating a banana, with the caption: “I’m sorry I forgot to ask you: Anybody want to be a monkey like me?”