This weeks readings is something that speaks to the hearts of all of us this year. Through this year our country has been going through change and unrest in hopes of a better future for everyone. In regards to the piece on Muhammad Ali, the three writers points out how Ali’s protest of being drafted wasn’t just because of the war, but a religious and racial protest as well. With the piece on Nike and Kapernick, we see the main focus on policy brutality and social justice for African Americans. I went out and found an older article from NPR that highlights several cases of protest in sports from the then St. Louis Rams doing the hands up don’t shoot gesture while walking out to a game, the protest from the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, to protest throughout college sports, and up to today. These athletes have faced backlash for bringing light something that has been an issue and of promonance in America for a long time. For Ali, he faced jail time and a ban from sports, to Kap who hasn’t seen an NFL field since 2016 and some would say has been blackballed from the league all together. Both have had similar reactions to their protest as both were labeled as “traitors” or “Anti-American” by the country that they loved. Athletes today face similar insults from their fellow Americans today. An example of this is when Lebron James and other fellow NBA players were told to just “shut up and dribble” and “sports and politics don’t mix”. Many of us know that this more than just a political issue and I believe it is very American and patriotic for one to stand up and protest for something they believe in. Protest is what our country was built off of and it is what helped us to get here today. Now, we have seen corporations like Nike come out and support players like Kap, NBA players, and NFL players. It is my hope that many of them want the same change as them and are not just in it for the money. Today we even see companies like EA and its game Madden come out and give Kap another shot as they put him back in the game for the first time in a long time. What these many have faced in regards to their own protest and racing awareness to racial injustice in this country, shouldn’t have happened. Now, we know America has faced growing pains in the past, but it is my hope that we will come out as a better nation on the other side of this. Regardless, of what side you student on, we have to nod our cap (no pun intended) to these men for standing up for what they believe in and throwing away the sport they love, so our country can look itself in the face and see that we need change. A good quote I have heard is, “some things are bigger than sports”.
When Nike took the risk on Colin Kaepernick they made an effort to start a more political sports company. Michael Baumann highlights this in his article “Nike’s Big Gamble on Colin Kaepernick.” In the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft the San Francisco 49ers took a dual threat Quarterback out of Nevada named Colin Kaepernick. He and starter Alex Smith had a back and forth Quarterback race that took the 49ers to a Super Bowl. Though he performed under average on the field Kaepernick made a stand by sitting in 2016. At the time America had a Black President in office and still had troubles with the underlying issue of American racism. Riots broke out under the tension of another police shooting of an unarmed Black citizen. Kaepernick sat during a preseason National Anthem against the Packers but had little notice to the protest. It wasn’t until he talked to a former US Military member about the best way to use his platform respectfully when his view broke loose. Kneeling for Colin during the National Anthem was his way of protesting Police Brutality of African Americans in the US. Though for many groups this was seen as disrespectful of the American military. After this many others joined his efforts but the backlash was too much and Colin wouldn’t be able to secure another NFL job after that season. With all this controversy still two years later Nike introduced Kaepernick as the face of its 30th anniversary “Just do it” campaign. Per usual this would take some backlash as he was still seen as a controversial figure. The campaign stated the line “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” Kaepernick was the perfect person to put behind this ad being that he did exactly this. He believed in dismantling the White supremacist culture even if him speaking out about this would cost him a job. Today Colin Kaepernick has partnered with Disney Plus, and the creator of the 1619 project Nichole Hannah Jones. They are a team with the idea to create content that reflects the views of the Black Lives Matter movement. For this type of support to come within four years is a real positive in such a tough and dark story. Though for Colin we don’t know if he plans to take the field again maybe he has found his calling in the world of activism.
This week’s readings were centered on the inherent social and cultural identities which majorly characterize the sports world, and how these elements have permanently interlocked entertainment and political activism. The articles analyze the experiences of two professional black athletes who were publicly ostracized, then later glorified, in response to their democratic expressions of protest and social activism. The two athletes, Boxer Muhammed Ali and NFL Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, were the athletic stars of two different generations and they protested the cultural context of two different American settings. But their distinct methods of social activism, which came as a response to the systemic injustice and racial inequality that defined American society, were both immediately met with harsh criticism by the media, public and political condemnation, monetary loss, and ultimately exile from their beloved sport. The similarity in their periods of exile can be easily juxtaposed, but the most powerful comparison between them lies in the widespread rationalization of their “radical” ideological beliefs that occurred later on in their careers. Due to his refusal of being drafted to serve in the Vietnam War, Muhammed Ali was regarded by most Americans, both black and white, as “unpatriotic” and a selfish traitor. Kaepernick received similar criticisms, but Ali’s experience was unique due to his actions invoking a federal legal conviction as well as being exiled from the religious and ideological community he proudly identified with. While Colin Kaepernick fortunately received support from a majority of the black community and a large cluster of his colleagues, his name and form of protest became a divisive political talking point and even resulted in his activism becoming the focus of constant scrutiny from the President of the United States, Donald Trump. These temporary, but intensive periods of vocal and printed criticism were regarded as a reflection of the common American opinion. Surprisingly, the socially deemed “radical” nature of the athletes’ ideological values gradually evolved into a politically “moderate” perspective on its own terms. This cultural shift did not occur due to a sudden change of heart; Muhammed Ali nor Colin Kaepernick ever gave into the pressure and developed beliefs that fit within the socially accepted narrative. Without sacrificing their own integrity, even when it seemed like the smartest thing to do, both athletes later on became defined as frontiersman of the sports world and leaders of their generation. Notably, many other prominent black athletes in history have spoken out against racial injustice within their own sport and society, but none of them vocalized beliefs as radical or were given the opportunity for their reputation to recover. Ali and Kaepernick could be viewed as “lucky” because the cultural context surrounding them evolved in their favor gradually overtime. The decreasing popularity of the Vietnam War in Ali’s case, and the growing political prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement for Kaepernick, allowed for these athletes to define their legacy without the potency of controversy.
The readings this week centered on questions our class itself seems to constantly return to: what has political activism looked like in sports historically and why does the media/general public limit athletes in their political activism? Stephen Townsend, Gary Osmon, and Murray Phillips partly answer the first question in their case study of Muhammad Ali. Unlike sports activists which cover our newspapers in modern moments, the actions and beliefs Muhammad Ali held which sprouted controversy were multi-faceted. Whereas Colin Kaepernick found divisive fame around the conversation of one issue, Ali’s divisive fame included topics like race, religion, and anti-war sentiments. I was unaware of the complexity of Muhammad Ali’s story prior to this article, although I knew he remains a black power icon and, moreover, an icon to all for remaining true to his personal beliefs during the height of his fame. The idea of a black, Muslim, anti-war athlete finding success in the 1960s seems… impossible, given the climate of race-relations at the time. Yes, the Civil Rights movement was passed in 1964, but we know as historians that it can take years (or in this case decades) for culture and climate to match up with law. As made obvious by the actions of Kaepernick and greater societal conversation, structural and systemic institutions remain in misalignment with the law either. Muhammad Ali’s story is one of eventual success, as pointed out by Townsend, Osmon, and Phillips, who find extreme interest in examining this success through the eyes of the journalists and press who covered Muhammad Ali. Unlike our ever-expanding landscape of media outlets, the press was the main medium for consumption of news at the height of Ali’s fame. The aforementioned authors highlight Muhammad Ali’s eventual acceptance by even journalists who claimed to hate him the most, such as Authur Daley. However, my understanding of this acceptance is that it came as the greater public’s perception of race and war sentiments began changing- and while they didn’t shift enough to meet Muhammad Ali’s stances, Townsend, Osmon, and Phillips point out that at the same time, Ali found success and gained respect in the boxing world and lost his radical edge to his views. I believe Muhammad Ali’s eventual acceptance reflects a slight shift in cultural values, paired with a willingness to hear his words because of his athletic success and less aggressive stance, rather than a true acceptance of his beliefs. Using the article Nike’s Big Gamble on Colin Kaepernick and other background knowledge to compare the two athletes, one similarity between the two is their eventual acceptance by the media. Kaepernick has been mostly accepted by big media outlets, such as The Ringer,The New York Times, CNN, The Guardian, etc. Even major brands such as Nike, as pointed out by the article Nike’s Big Gamble on Colin Kaepernick, provide evidence for an acceptance of his beliefs and actions. Despite this acceptance, Kaepernick remains a divisive figure. This leads me to the conclusion that the greater public hasn’t shifted its cultural views on police brutality- his original reason for protesting. Perhaps the media is ready to use Kaepernick’s face and support him because they truly believe in his cause, or they’re scared to be the last ones to condemn police brutality, or as pointed out by Michael Baumann, it’s a business strategy (Nike).
Differences between the two athletes include Kaepernick’s similarity to Smith and Carlos. All three athletes were pushed from their sports and place in the public eye at the very moment their radical actions became public attention. The aforementioned athletes’ identity as a human being lost its significance, especially once the media turns their actions into a conversation on the controversy of the act rather than the intention of the action. Ali, alternatively, remained in the public sphere even when banned from the boxing ring. Everything discussed to thus far serves to answer the question of what political activism has looked like in sports historically. But why does the media/general public limit athletes in their political activism? Take Lebron James for example, who was told by Fox News Host Laura Ingraham to “shut up and dribble” when he spoke out in agreeance with Colin Kaepernick’s protest. Based on our readings and class discussions, I argue athletes (and more so BIPOC athletes) are seen as commodities first and foremost- whose status and popularity can bring their organizations and sponsors infinite monetary gain. Mahammad Ali in the public sphere was seen as a boxer first, Kaepernick a quarterback first, Lebron James a basketball player first. It’s true that athletes of higher power status, icons, have greater protection and bargaining power with the public and it would be easier to recover from speaking out and receiving backlash; but regardless all athletes are seen as commodities- bodies with great athleticism meant to entertain, compete, inspire, and make money. So then, if athletes are seen as useful or valuable things which can be used for profit, what happens when they speak out on injustice? Injustice perpetrated by the very state which funds and consumes their careers? Injustice a majority of their base or their sponsors’ base refuses to acknowledge? The obvious solution for those who disagree with their narrative, the solution for their sponsors, the solution for their institutions: silence. As a society, especially in the United States, we need to see athletes as human beings first- particularly in regard to BIPOC athletes who have experienced structural and systemic racism or whose communities have been victims of disenfranchisement by the state for centuries.
Reading the two articles “Where Cassius Clay Ends, Muhammad Ali Begins..” and “Nike’s Big Gamble on Colin Kaepernick” It is easy to see similarities between the continuation of the struggle for Black athletes to use their platform to speak out on injustices. However, there are signs of reassurance in the more recent article.
Townsend, Osmond, and Phillips article “Where Cassius Clay Ends, Muhammad Ali Begins..” creates a very brief history of the way Black athletes have been treated by the sports world about political issues when they discuss Ali and the draft dogging which resulted in a ban from the sport and imprisonment. This history is then compared to current leaders in the sports world and their commitment to pointing out injustices and mistreatment of minorities in modern day America. The comparisons that are being drawn link Ali to Kaepernick and that he is trying to do with his protest. The media portrayal of Ali is what makes his story so telling. In particular, when Ali announces that he will resist the draft, he also had a planned fight with Chuvalo. The article uses the quote “On one side is the sporting write-ups. On the other side is the controversial write-ups. Those controversial write-ups are getting bigger than the sporting write ups all the time” to show the push back from the media. Further on in the article, there is a more in depth history of Ali as he deals with political backlash and the name change through out his career. The article discusses white newspapers were more reluctant to use Ali’s chosen name over his “birth name”. This is another example of the maltreatment of early Black athletes.
In the second article, “Nike’s Big Gamble on Colin Kaepernick”, more is discussed about how Nike is still building an add campaign with Kaepernick even though he was blackballed by the NFL for protesting. While this is still a sign of injustice, it is promising that Nike is still taking the opportunity to use Colin’s face and message as the centerpiece of a marketing campaign. The quote that really sticks out to me in that article is “Nike has hired an activist, not just an athlete.” This quote represents the importance of athletes voices beyond the playing field.
Here is another example of players advocating for equality: https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nhl/wild/2020/08/03/matt-dumba-minnesota-wild-fist-kneeling-speech-anthem-protest/5570942002/
As I read Where Cassius Clay Ends, Muhammad Ali Begins; Sportspeople, Political Activism, and Methodology by Stephen Townsend, Gary Osman, and Murray G. Phillips, as well as Nike’s Big Gamble on Colin Kaepernick by Michael Baumann, my eyes were opened. From the time of Muhammad Ali to the time of Collin Kaepernick, politics and sports really have not changed. Even more recently than Kaepernick’s situation, the article LeBron Walked Out of Player’s Meeting that Ended ‘Ugly,’ After Vote by Lakers, Clippers to End Season [Report] by the KNBR Staff, shows how politics are relevant to sports.
The most interesting thing that I read was the Kaepernick article by Baumann. The author is very clearly biased in supporting the case of Colin Kaepernick, even claiming that anyone who disagrees with him is a white supremacists. Could one not be opposed to this method of protest without being a white supremacist? It is obvious that Nike signed the deal with Kaepernick for profit, which the author touches on a little bit. With a social movement such as the Black Lives Matter movement, companies will exploit it the best they can to make money, regardless of what political view or standpoint they see the subject from. People will more than likely flock to the stores to purchase the items that have words, sayings, or figures such as Kaepernick on them that show a message supporting a movement they are following, especially one as large as the Black Lives Matter movement.
In the article about Lebron James, players held a large meeting to discuss what will happen with the current social movements going on and the continuation of playoff games. Players could not come to an agreement and many, including LeBron James, walked out without having found a solution. Whole teams left the room because of this.
There is no way to take politics out of sports, there is no way to take sports out of politics. When someone is given a platform to express their views, they will express their views, and people will listen. The real issue is how they choose to express their ideas and views on issues and the world.
Political activism and sports share a rich history within the United States, figures such as Muhammad Ali have become household names in the classroom for both their involvement in politics and their athletic achievements. Ali has become something of a staple for those who wish to make a change through sports believing him to be an almost virtually beloved figure, but during his time he was far from that. Many figures of racial justice in the sports world received harsh backlash for their activism, and the article presented today explores those Themes. Where Cassius Clay Ends, Muhammad Ali Begins’: Sportspeople, Political Activism, and Methodology, by Stephen Townsend, Gary Osmand, and Murray G Phillips, Nike’s Big Gamble on Colin Kaepernick, by Micheal Bauman, and lastly Did the NBA strike change sports forever?, by Mike Bebernes, all discuss the ramification many athletes receive when they choose to dive into political activism, and the many similarities between our current age and the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. In Townsend’s article he attempts to draw a connection between Muhammad Ali, and Colin Kaepernick while also documenting the journey Ali took in order to receive true respect concerning his name change, and more importantly receiving the respect he deserved as a human being. Ali journey follows many ups and downs, this is reflected in the reference of his former name by several publications. As time moves on Ali becomes more socially acceptable and his name is cemented as the great Muhammad Ali, the acceptance of his name also cements the righteousness of his beliefs and movement. Kaepernick on the other hand may have more of a struggle on his hand than Ali did. Generally speaking, Ali became had been ousted from Boxing and was able to make a triumphant return against Joe Frazier, at this point it seems unlikely the Kaepernick will receive the same return, as he is almost 33 years old nearing the end of his prime as a football player. In addition, in the ringer article by Bauman, they go over the multi-million-dollar deal with Nike Kaepernick, which can be seen as an almost sullying if his movement for more money. Ali faced the threat of imprisonment and lost most of his financial earning, while Kaepernick received a deal from one of the wealthiest athletic companies in the world. This is not to speak about Kaepernick’s messages or beliefs, for I believe that he genuinely believes in what he is fight for, I just pointing out how Kaepernick may stay controversial for longer than Ali during his Exodus from boxing. What can be seen from Kaepernick’s protest is the inspiration to other athletes he has been, as seen by the recent NBA strike, where he is directly referenced by Bebernes, Kaepernick may stay controversial, but the movement spawned by his example will be seen as righteous, and I believe ultimately will change the United States for the better.