Michael Jordan once famously said, “Republicans buy sneakers, too.” This often-referenced statement is commonly used to criticize His Airness for political ambivalence. Though most professional athletes go out of their way to avoid political controversy of any sort, a select few brave sports stars wholeheartedly embrace activism. The following four athletes will go down in history as the brave men and women of the sporting world who dared to take a stand on social and political issues rather than quietly cash multimillion-dollar endorsement checks.
Today’s generation of youngsters struggles to name a single athlete-turned-activist aside from Colin Kaepernick for good reason: modern sports stars abide by Jordan’s above-quoted mantra. Kaepernick’s infamous kneel-down during the National Anthem was a powerful gesture that ultimately cost him a roster spot in the league and millions of dollars.
Though Kaepernick recouped some of the lost money back in the form of a Nike sponsorship, his reputation has been tainted for taking a stand against police brutality in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Kaepernick has since been honored by Sports Illustrated and Harvard University with the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award and the W.E.B. Du Bois Medal, respectively.
Perhaps the most famous sports activist of all time, sprinter Jesse Owens competed alongside 18 African Americans in the 1936 Berlin summer Olympics. Owens emerged victorious in the games, winning the gold medal in four different events. In fact, Owens broke two Olympic records during the games. Owens proudly stood on the winner’s podium, fist raised high in the sky in reference to black power. It was quite the powerful moment considering the fact that Germany’s leader at the time, Adolf Hitler, predicted solely Aryan athletes would win gold medals.
In fact, Hitler even went as far as criticizing the United States for sending African Americans to the games. Instead of taking the easy road and boycotting the games to avoid incessant racism, Owens deserves credit for competing, winning and representing America to the fullest. Owens deserves credit for proving diversity truly is one of our nation’s strengths.
Aside from Kaepernick, Jim Brown is likely the most controversial figure in American sports history. Brown’s activism took place off the field rather than on it. Brown launched the Black Economic Union back in the 1960s to provide African Americans with much-needed economic opportunities. Brown famously donned a green, red and black Kufi cap in honor of his African American heritage. Though Brown’s push for social change and protest of the Vietnam war certainly alienated some members of the status quo during the racially turbulent 60s, he will go down in history as a catalyst for positive social change.
Ann Meyers Drysdale
There is a common misconception that female ballers such as Lisa Leslie and Cheryl Miller broke the gender barrier by playing in the WNBA. Though the WNBA has certainly helped women athletes get some “shine” as the kids like to say, Ann Meyers Drysdale broke down the basketball gender barrier before today’s WNBA players.
Drysdale was the first woman to secure a 4-year athletic scholarship at UCLA. She is the only woman to ink a NBA deal, signing with the Indiana Pacers in 1979. Furthermore, Drysdale even broke a barrier in the media, serving as the first woman to ever broadcast the play-by-play of a NBA game.