The United States is founded on exclusive voting power
The U.S. Constitution gave states the power to decide who was qualified to vote. States typically restricted voting to white males, 21+ who owned property. Some states had religious tests to restrict voting to Christian men. In 1789, George Washington is elected president with 100% of the electoral college. Only 6% of the US population was eligible to vote. In the 1820s, land ownership was removed as a clause for voting.
University of Michigan’s first African American student
Samuel Codes Watson was the first African American student admitted to the University of Michigan. Born in South Carolina in 1832, Watson was mixed race and passed for white while attending Michigan. In 1857, he became one of the first African Americans to receive an M.D. from Cleveland Medical College. He later became Detroit’s first elected African American city official.
Fifteenth Amendment Ratified
In 1868, the 14th Amendment grants African Americans citizenship, but not the right to vote.
In 1870, the 15th Amendment is ratified, stating the government can’t deny citizens the right to vote based on race. States used Jim Crow Laws and other barriers like poll taxes, literacy tests and language requirements to attempt to disenfranchise Black voters.
University of Michigan’s first female African American student
Mary Henrietta Graham was the first African American woman admitted to the University of Michigan.
Moses “Fleetwood” Walker becomes first African American baseball player at the University of Michigan
Walker became a businessman, inventor, newspaper editor, and author after leaving Michigan in 1883 to join a professional baseball team in Toledo before graduating. He became the first African American major leaguer when that Toledo team joined the American Association.
George Jewett becomes first African American football player in the Big Ten
Jewett was an American athlete who became the first African American football player at both the University of Michigan and Northwestern University, and in the Big Ten Conference. At Michigan, he was the leading rusher, scorer and kicker. Jewett was regarded as “one of the greatest stars” in Michigan football in the pre-Fielding Yost era. In addition to playing fullback and halfback, Jewett was also the team’s placekicker and has been called “the Afro-American phenomenon of the University of Michigan.”
George Poage first Black Olympic medalist
Poage makes history as the first Black American athlete to win an Olympic medal when he wins bronze medals in the 1904 St. Louis Olympics in the 200-meter hurdles (since discontinued) and the 400-meter hurdles. Poage competes despite many prominent Black leaders calling for a boycott of the Olympics that year because organizers had built segregated spectator facilities for the event and refused to integrate the Olympics or that year’s World’s Fair in St. Louis. Poage, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, is also the first Black athlete to win a race in the Big Ten Conference track championships.
The Asiatic Exclusion League is formed to prevent immigration
The Asiatic Exclusion League, a white supremacist organization that starts in the United States and expands to Canada, is formed with the goal of preventing the immigration of people of Asian heritage.
Jack Johnson becomes the first African-American heavyweight boxing champion of the world
Johnson was reviled for his defiance of Jim Crow laws. After winning the heavyweight title, the press began calling for the “Great White Hope” a white fighter who could defeat Johnson and return the heavyweight title to a white man. In 1912, Johnson defeated Jim Jeffries who was hailed as the white hope some had been waiting for and he held the heavyweight title from 1908 to 1915.
Fritz Pollard breaks color barrier in professional football. Kenny Washington, Woody Strode, Bill Willis and Marion Motley reintegrate the NFL.
Pollard, a Black man, begins his professional football career in 1919, joining the Akron Pros. Two years later in 1921, he becomes the first Black coach in NFL history after being named co-coach of the team. In 1923, Pollard becomes the first Black quarterback in the league’s history as a member of the Hammond Pros. After Pollard leaves the game, NFL owners refuse to sign Black players until 1946, when the Los Angeles Coliseum threatens not to host Los Angeles Rams home games unless the team signs an African American player. It was then that the Rams sign UCLA standouts Washington and Strode. Willis and Motley, two future Hall of Famers, would join the Cleveland Browns later that year. In 2005, Pollard is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Women granted the right to vote
American woman are granted the right to vote through the ratification of the 19th Amendment in the U.S. Constitution. However, the women’s suffrage movement and the 19th Amendment are not fully inclusive as the amendment does not intend to benefit women of color and purposefully pushes their plight to the boundaries. It will not be until the 1960s that all women can truly exercise their right to vote, but even that freedom is still being threatened today with new legislation restricting voter access.
Takao Ozawa v. United States
In 1915, Ozawa files for United States citizenship under the Naturalization Act of 1906, which allows only “free white persons” and “persons of African nativity or persons of African descent” to naturalize. In 1922, the United States Supreme Court finds Ozawa, a Japanese American who is born in Japan but lived in the United States for 20 years, ineligible for naturalization. This decision strengthens and reaffirms the racist policies of U.S. immigration. With successful judicial backing, policymakers pass more anti-Asian laws, a trend that continues until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
First African American to win an individual gold medal in the Olympics
In 1924, William DeHart Hubbard became the first African American to win an individual Olympic gold medal. During his senior year at Michigan (1925) Hubbard set the world record in the long jump. While the football coach, Fielding Yost, had barred African American players from football since 1901, in 1921, then Athletic Director Yost allowed one African American to join the track team. Hubbard was the only African American track team member during his four years at U-M.
Indian Citizenship Act
The Indian Citizenship Act grants Native Americans full citizenship, but many states still disenfranchise them at the polls.
DeHart Hubbard first Black Olympic gold medalist
Hubbard becomes the first Black American athlete to earn an Olympic gold medal when he wins the men’s long jump at the 1924 Paris Olympics. In a meet in Chicago in June 1925, Hubbard set a long jump world record of 7.89 meters (25 feet, 10 ¾ inches), and a year later in Cincinnati, equaled the world record in the 100-yard dash (9.6 seconds). Hubbard worked for the Cincinnati Public Recreation Committee after graduating from the University of Michigan. In 1942, Hubbard moved to Cleveland where he became a race relations adviser for the Federal Housing Authority until his retirement in 1967.
Walter Achiu becomes first Asian to play in the NFL
Achiu makes it to the NFL in 1927, becoming the first known person of East Asian heritage to play in an NFL game. While he plays sparingly for the Dayton Triangles, Achiu is considered one of the greatest athletes to come through Dayton, where he is in the Athletic Hall of Fame at Dayton University. The running back becomes an All-American honorable mention at the school, and the local newspaper calls him one of the most popular players on the team. At Dayton, he also stars in baseball, track and wrestling, and he goes onto a professional wrestling career that goes until the 1950s.
Olympic champion helps create Black History Month
Ralph Metcalfe was a public servant and Olympic champion. In the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Metcalfe was second in the 100-meter dash behind Jesse Owens, and teamed with Owens and two others on the gold-medal and world-record setting 4×100 relay team. He also won the silver medal at the Los Angeles Summer Olympics in 1932 in the men’s 100-meter dash and a bronze medal in the 200-meter dash. After his athletic career, he served four terms as a city council member in Chicago before serving in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1971-78. Metcalfe was a co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, and in 1977 introduced the resolution officially designating February as Black History Month, which became law in 1986. Committed to fighting against racism, Metcalfe said, “In the caucus we have decided to put the interests of Black people first—above all else, and that means even going against our party or our political leaders if Black interests don’t coincide with their positions.”
Gerald Ford protests playing in segregated game
Before presidency was on his mind, a young Ford playing football at Michigan threatened to quit the team and refused to play in a game against Georgia Tech, because the Yellow Jackets demanded an African American athlete, Willis Ward, not be permitted to make the trip. Ford only ended up playing after Ward asked him to.
Jesse Owens wins four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin
Owens won four gold medals in the long jump, 100 and 200-meter dashes and the 400-meter relay at the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany. During the Games, Owens and German athlete Luz Long forged a friendship and proved that competitors can also be allies. After Owens defeated Long in the long jump, the two celebrated together in a gesture of sportsmanship and friendship and a classic example of the unifying nature of sport. When Owens returned to the U.S., however, he still faced racism in a segregated country and was never even congratulated by the White House for his record-breaking Olympics. Owens said “Hitler didn’t snub me; it was our president who snubbed me.”
President Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066 into effect
Encouraged by officials at all levels in the hysteria of World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorizes the internment of more than 120,000 American citizens of Japanese ancestry and resident aliens from Japan. The order isn’t formally rescinded until the late 1970s, and in 1988 Congress passes the Civil Liberties Act, which states that a “grave injustice” was done to Japanese American citizens and resident aliens during World War II. It also establishes a fund that pays $1.6 billion in reparations to formerly interned Japanese Americans or their heirs.
George Omachi, Japanese Americans take up baseball in internment camps
Per the orders of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942, more than 120,000 Japanese Americans are placed in internment camps. As part of that executive order, teenager George Omachi and his family are taken by train from their home in California to Jerome War Relocation Center in Denson, Arkansas. After the Omachis arrived in Arkansas, George took part in camp baseball, becoming a player for the Denson All-Stars. “Without baseball, camp life would have been miserable. … It was humiliating, demeaning, being incarcerated in our own country.” He continued to play and coach baseball for several teams at several levels. In 1968, he began scouting in the MLB.
First Samoan athlete plays in the NFL
As an offensive lineman for Washington, Al Lolotai is the first Samoan to play in the NFL.
Jackie Robinson becomes the first Black player in Major League Baseball
“I am not concerned with your liking or disliking me. All I ask is that you respect me as a human being,” says Robinson, who breaks the MLB color barrier when he takes the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers after executive Branch Rickey signs him to a historic contract. Robinson wins the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1947, and two years he later he’s honored as the league’s Most Valuable Player. Robinson helps the Dodgers win six National League pennants and the 1955 World Series title. In 1962, Robinson becomes a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Wataru “Wat” Misaka becomes first non-white and first player of Asian descent to play professional basketball
Selected by the Knicks in the 1947 Basketball Association of America Draft, Misaka became both the first non-white player and first player of Asian descent to play in this precursor league that would become the National Basketball Association.
We are Penn State
In 1948, Penn State football played well enough to be selected to play in the Cotton Bowl against Southern Methodist University. During this time, the Cotton Bowl was a segregated game and Penn State had Wally Triplett, the first African American to earn a varsity letter at Penn State. When both schools scheduled meetings to make the decision to remove African American players from the team to play in the bowl game, team captain Steve Suhey shared his opposition of the meetings with the statement “We are Penn State. There will be no meetings.” Triplett was able to play and ended up scoring the game-tying touchdown.
Larry Kwong breaks hockey color barrier
Kwong is called up from the New York Rangers farm team and becomes the first person of color to play in the NHL. When he is hired as player-coach of Switzerland’s HC Ambrì-Piotta later in his life, he becomes the first person of Chinese descent to coach a professional hockey team.
Satchel Paige becomes first Negro League pitcher in Major League Baseball.
On his 42nd birthday, following an amazing career in the Negro Leagues, Satchel Paige made Major League Baseball (MLB) history becoming both the first Negro League pitcher in the American League and the oldest player to debut in the Major Leagues. Paige is one of baseball’s most prolific pitchers; having found success in both the Negro Leagues and MLB, he was also the first African-American pitcher inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Victoria Manalo Draves becomes first Asian American Olympic Champion
Growing up in San Francisco as the daughter of a Filipino father and English mother, an early coach makes Manalo Draves use her mother’s maiden name in swim and dive competitions as at that time interracial marriages are looked down upon. She also faces a regular indignity when using public pools as the water would be drained the day after she uses it each time. On August 3, 1948, Manalo Draves becomes the first Asian American Olympic Champion, placing first in the women’s three-meter springboard at the 1948 London Summer Olympics. After the Olympics, Manolo Draves and her husband open their own diving school. She is inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1969.
First Asian American Man wins Olympic gold medal
Sammy Lee becomes the first Asian American man to earn an Olympic gold medal, winning in platform diving during the 1948 Summer Olympics in London.
Coachman first Black woman to win Olmypic gold
Alice Coachman became the first Black woman to win an Olympic gold medal when she won the high jump for the U.S. at the 1948 London Olympics. Coachman was often turned away from athletic facilities growing up because of her race and sex and trained where she could. Following her win in the Olympics, Coachman became the first Black woman to endorse an international product when the Coca-Cola Company hired her as a spokesperson and featured her in billboard advertising with Jesse Owens. Coachman has been credited with helping open the door for future U.S. Black women’s track stars such as Evelyn Ashford, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and Florence Griffith Joyner.
University of Michigan’s first non-white Senior Class President
Orval Wardell Johnson was the first non-white student to be elected as Senior Class President of the College of Literature, Science, and Art. His opponent was Pete R. Elliott, a popular white football player. The final voting margin was 2 to 1. While at U-M, Johnson enrolled in Latin-American studies because he believed that “colored college students should prepare themselves to invade new fields.”
Ted Corbitt, “The Father of Distance Running”
Ted Corbitt, the grandson of slaves, was the first Black marathoner named to the U.S. Olympic team, finishing 44th in the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. Corbitt is considered the “Father of Distance Running” in the United States, and for good reason. He ran his first Boston Marathon in 1951, and when he ran his last in 1974 at age 55, his time was only 34 seconds slower than his first race. Corbitt invented many things runners now take for granted, including course measurement and age-group competition. Corbitt’s 1964 book on course measurement set the standards for the sport worldwide and continues to be used today.
Civil Rights Movement
The civil rights movement was a struggle for social justice that took place mainly during the 1950s and 1960s and sought equal rights under the law for African-Americans in the United States. The movement achieved its largest legislative gains in the mid-1960s, after years of community organizing and direct actions. In addition to civil rights leaders, many athletes who were also impacted personally brought attention to this movement and supported its mission.
Brown v. Board of Education Decision : The Supreme Court Decision Dismisses “Separate but Equal” in Public Schools
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was a landmark Supreme Court case in which the justices ruled unanimously that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional. The decision helped establish the precedent that “separate-but-equal” education and other services were not, in fact, equal at all.
Rosa Parks arrested
On the evening of December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man in Montgomery, AL. She was arrested for disobeying an Alabama law requiring black passengers to give their seats to white passengers when the bus was full. This incident contributed to Montgomery Bus Boycott, a 381-day boycott of the Montgomery bus system led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that resulted in a 1956 Supreme Court decision banning segregation on public transportation.
Charlie Sifford plays in his first PGA Tour
Charlie Sifford was the first African American to compete in PGA-sanctioned events following the removal of the PGA’s “Caucasian-only” membership clause in 1961. Sifford went on to win PGA Tour events in 1967 and 1969 as well as the 1975 PGA Seniors’ Championship and was the first African American to be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. He also was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014.
Althea Gibson wins Wimbledon
Althea Gibson is the first African American woman to win both the U.S. Nationals and Wimbledon titles in 1957 and she defended both titles in 1958. Throughout her career, Gibson wins a combined 11 Grand Slam titles in singles, doubles and mixed doubles and is inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1971. In 1963, Gibson becomes the first Black golfer in the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) and played 171 events between 1963 and 1977.
Zheng Fengrong first Chinese woman to hold world record in any sport
Zheng Fengrong becomes the first Chinese woman to hold a world record in any sport when she set the high jump world record of 1.77 meters (5 feet, 9 ¾ inches) in 1957. Zheng never competed in the Olympics as the People’s Republic of China boycotted the Olympics from 1952 to 1984. Zheng’s granddaughter, Ninali Zheng, previously known as Nina Schultz, won a silver medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games for Canada in the heptathlon. But as far back as 2017 she had announced her intentions to compete in the Olympics for her maternal grandparents’ country and live out the Olympic dream her grandmother was unable to fulfill. She was granted Chinese citizenship in April 2021, and finished 10th in the heptathlon at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Willie O’Ree Breaks the color barrier in the NHL
In 1958, the Boston Bruins call up O’Ree for two games, making him the first Black player in NHL history. Persevering through racism and an injury that left him nearly blind in his right eye, O’Ree begins his NHL career with a win over the Montreal Canadiens. Pro hockey is slow to recognize O’Ree’s accomplishments, but that does not stop him from taking a hands-on role in promoting diversity in the sport. Devoting his life to make the sport more diverse and inclusive, in 1998 O’Ree becomes the director of youth development for the NHL/USA Hockey Diversity Task Force. It isn’t until 2018 that he is inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and 2021 that the Bruins retire his number. The NHL would also institute the annual Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award in his honor, given to an individual working to positively impact his or her community, culture or society through hockey.
Wilma Rudolph makes history at the 1960 Olympic Games
After making history as the first American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympics, Rudolph refuses to attend any segregated celebratory events, making her homecoming parade the first integrated event in her hometown of Clarksville, Tenn. In 1963, Rudolph joins other Clarksville citizens in an attempt to integrate a local Shoney’s restaurant. Despite being a hometown and national hero, she’s denied entry because she is Black.
Barriers to Voting Reach a Tipping Point
In the 1960s, states ramped up voter supression policies such as literacy tests, poll taxes and English requirements to suppress people of color, immigrants and low-income populations.
Otis Davis overcomes racism to become Olympic champion
As a man of Black and Native American heritage, Otis Davis endured racism growing up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in the height of the Jim Crow South. Like many others, he was not able to attend the high school closest to his home because of his race. Davis went on to serve four years in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War before enrolling in college at the University of Oregon. He would then win two gold medals at the 1960 Rome Olympics, taking the 400 meters in world-record time and two days later anchoring the U.S. 4×400-meter relay team to another gold medal and a world record. Davis was among a group of rising Black athletes who also won their first gold medals during the 1960 Rome Olympics, including Wilma Rudolph and Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay).
Students from the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) launched the Freedom Rides to challenge segregation on interstate buses and bus terminals. Traveling on buses from Washington, D.C. to Jackson, Mississippi, the riders met violent opposition in the Deep South.
Bill Russell hosts first integrated basketball camp in Mississippi
Medgar Evers, the first state field secretary of the NAACP in Mississippi and a prominent civil rights activist that worked to enforce Brown v. Board of Education and investigated the murder of Emmett Till, is assassinated in his driveway on June 12, 1963. Following Evers’ murder by a Klansman — who wouldn’t be convicted of the murder until 31 years later — NBA star Russell travels to Mississippi on the invitation of Evers’ brother, Charles, to host an integrated basketball camp in segregated Mississippi. In a 2011 interview, Charles Evers recalls how members of the Ku Klux Klan stood across the street from the playground in efforts to intimidate Russell and organizers. The night before the camp, Charles, rifle in hand, was standing guard in Russell’s hotel room as there were several threats of violence.
NAACP Leader Medgar Evers is assassinated
Medgar Evers was the first state field secretary of the NAACP in Mississippi and a prominent civil rights activist. Through his work he fought for the enforcement of the Brown v. Board of Education, was instrumental in gathering evidence and witness for the investigation of the murder of Emmett Till and, led voter registration efforts. He was assassinated in the driveway of his on home and the outrage following his death increased support for legislation that would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom
On August 28, 1963, more than 200,000 demonstrators took part in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in the nation’s capital. The march was successful in pressuring the administration of United States President John F. Kennedy to initiate a strong federal civil rights bill in Congress. During the event, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his memorable “I Have a Dream” speech. Athletes such as Bill Russell and Jackie Robinson also participated in the march.
Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington
The “I Have a Dream” remains one of the most famous speeches in history. King uses universal themes to depict the struggles of African Americans before closing with an improvised riff on his dreams of equality. The eloquent speech endures as one of the signature moments of the Civil Rights Movement.
Cassius Clay wins first heavyweight title
Cassius Clay won his first heavyweight title after defeating Sonny Liston. After the fight Clay announced that he had converted and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. Ali would later become the first fighter to win the world heavyweight championship on three separate occasions; successfully defending his title 19 times and cementing his place in history as “The Greatest.”
Freedom Summer – Volunteers campaign to register as many African American voters in Mississippi as possible and are met with violence.
Freedom Summer was a 1964 voter registration project in Mississippi, part of a larger effort by civil rights groups such as the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to expand black voting in the South. The national attention garnered from the violence volunteers encountered is seen as a catalyst in the Civil Rights Movement.
Civil Rights Act of 1964
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was comprehensive legislation that outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, required equal access to public places and employment, and enforced desegregation of schools and the right to vote. It was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
The 24th Amendment outlaws poll taxes, or tax fees, used to discourage poor people from voting.
Billy Mills, member of the Sioux tribe, becomes the only American man to win gold in the Olympic 10,000m
Mills, who is also known as Tamakoce Te’Hila and is a member of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) tribe, scores a huge upset, winning gold in the 10,000-meter race at the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. His journey to his win almost tragically ends before it begins, as the pain that racism directed toward Mills causes him to consider suicide. He uses the goal of winning the race to help him push through, however, and now Mills advocates for Native American youth through Running Strong for American Indian Youth, which he helps start and becomes the spokesperson for in 1986. Mills also fights for Native American civil and voting rights, spending the vast majority of his time traveling for that cause, and in 2013 he is awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal, he second-highest U.S. civilian award. More than 50 years since his historic upset, Mills is still the only American to win the Olympic 10,000 meter.
AFL All Star Game is moved from New Orleans to Houston.
After African American AFL players were confronted with discriminatory treatment on their arrival to New Orleans for the AFL All Star game, players refuses to play the game in city and it was ultimately moved to Houston, Texas.
More than 500 non-violent civil rights marchers are attacked by law enforcement officers while attempting to march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to demand the need for African American voting rights.
Voting Rights Act
The Voting Rights Act enforces the 15th Amendment by explicitly stating that obstacles, such as literacy tests or complicated ballot instructions, are against federal law.
President Lyndon Johnson signs the Hart-Celler Immigration Act
The Hart-Celler Act literally changes the face of America. Also known as the The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, it ends an immigration-admissions policies based on race and ethnicity and ends policies prioritizing immigrants from western and northern Europe which promoted the ideal of U.S. homogeneity. Beginning in 1965 when the Hart-Celler Act abolished racial quotas, the demographic makeup of America begins changing, as immigrants entering the United States under the new legislation came increasingly from countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, as opposed to Europe. When signing the act, President Johnson said, “This bill that we will sign today is not a revolutionary bill. It does not affect the lives of millions. It will not reshape the structure of our daily lives. … Yet it is still one of the most important acts of this Congress and of this administration. For it does repair a very deep and painful flaw in the fabric of American justice. It corrects a cruel and enduring wrong in the conduct of the American nation.”
Sociologist Harry Edwards creates the Olympic Project for Human Rights to protest against racial segregation in the United States and worldwide
In October 1967, San Jose State University sociologist Harry Edwards founded the Olympic Project for Human Rights to protest racism and racial segregation in the U.S. and beyond. Edwards focused on recruiting athletes participating in the 1968 Olympics to engage in activism there, such as Tommie Smith and John Carlos.
Kathrine Switzer runs the Boston Marathon
In 1967, Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as a numbered entrant. During her run, race official Jock Semple attempted to physically pull her from the event, but she was protected by her boyfriend and fellow runner, Thomas Miller, allowing her to finish the race. Women were not officially permitted to run the Boston Marathon until 1972. Switzer would later say: “I knew if I quit, nobody would ever believe that women had the capability to run 26-plus miles. If I quit, everybody would say it was a publicity stunt. If I quit, it would set women’s sports back, way back, instead of forward. If I quit, I’d never run Boston. If I quit, Jock Semple and all those like him would win.”
The Cleveland Summit
On April 28, 1967, boxing champion Muhammad Ali refused to be inducted into the U.S. Army. Ali, a Muslim, cited religious reasons for his decision to forgo military service. On June 4, 1967 a collection of some of the top black athletes in the country including Jim Brown, Bill Russell and Lew Alcindor met with Ali to discuss his decision — and ultimately held a news conference in his support.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King is assassinated
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s less than thirteen years of nonviolent leadership ended abruptly and tragically on April 4th, 1968, when he was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King’s body was returned to his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, where his funeral ceremony was attended by high-level leaders of all races and political stripe.
Roberto Clemente halts opening day
The Pittsburgh Pirates were scheduled to play the Houston Astros on April 8, 1968, four days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King and just one day before his burial. Out of respect, Roberto Clemente refused to play and his teammates also joined in their support to postpone opening day. While initially leaving the decision to each club, MLB Commissioner William Eckert followed suit and postponed all games until April 10th, the day after Dr. King’s burial.
Arthur Ashe Wins the US Open
Arthur Ashe becomes the first African American to win the U.S Open men’s singles champion. In 1975 he would also become the first African American male to win Wimbledon.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar boycotts the 1968 Summer Olympics over unequal treatment of African-Americans
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar boycotted the 1968 Mexico City Summer Olympics as a way of protesting the inequalities faced by African-Americans.
Marlin Briscoe becomes the first African-American Quarterback in modern-era football
Marlin Briscoe becomes the first African-American Quarterback in modern-era football.
The Detroit Tigers win the World Series a year after the Detroit Uprising
The city of Detroit celebrates the Tigers winning the world series a year after the 12th Street Uprising. On the night the uprising began Detroit Tiger Willie Horton took to the streets in his Tigers uniform to encourage peace.
Tommie Smith and John Carlos stand for human rights at the 1968 Olympics
Drawing inspiration from sociologist Harry Edwards, American track & field athletes Carlos and Smith after medaling in the 200-meter dash at the Mexico City Olympics stand atop the podium during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” with bowed heads and their fists in the air, each wearing a black glove. The iconic protest, Smith says, is a “… cry for freedom and for human rights. We had to be seen because we couldn’t be heard.” The International Olympic Committee bans Carlos and Smith from the Olympic Village for their political message and threatens to ban the entire USA Track & Field team after the US Olympic Committee refuses to send Carlos and Smith home. Eventually, the IOC does expel them from the Mexico City Olympics, and the two return to the United States where they are ostracized from Olympic competition for the next 30 years. The silver medalist, Australian Peter Norman, is the one who gives Carlos and Smith the idea to each wear a glove. Norman, who like Carlos and Smith wears a “Olympic Project for Human Rights” badge on the medal stand, tells them to each wear a single glove after Carlos forgets his at the Olympic Village as an alternative. Norman himself uses his badge as a form of protest for the racist “White Australia” policies at the time. His form of allyship effectively ends his career as he is blackballed from competing for Australia ever again despite running Olympic qualifying times and “suffered to the day he died,” Norman’s son later says.
Black 14 at the University of Wyoming
During the Wyoming Cowboys season in mid-October, head coach Lloyd Eaton dismisses 14 Black players from the team after they ask to wear black armbands during the upcoming home game against BYU. In their game against each other the year prior, BYU players taunted Black players on Wyoming with racial epithets and spit on them. A week before the 1969 game, the school’s campus activist group the Black Student Alliance asks the Wyoming football team’s Black members to boycott the game to protest the racist events of the last game and the Mormon Church’s refusal to allow Black men in the priesthood. The day before the game, the players don black armbands on their clothes and go to Eaton’s office to discuss how they might show solidarity with the BSA protest. Upon seeing them with the armbands, Eaton immediately dismisses them from the team. According to Joe Williams, a team co-captain before he was suspended: “We wanted to see if we could wear black armbands in the game, or black socks, or black X’s on our helmets. And if he had said no we had already agreed that we would be willing to protest with nothing but our black skins.”
Curt Flood & the advent of free agency
After the 1969 Major League Baseball season, the St. Louis Cardinals traded Curt Flood to the Philadelphia Phillies, a transaction the seven-time Gold Glover and 12-year major league veteran had no choice but to accept because of MLB’s Reserve Clause, which bound players to their club for as long as the team saw fit and allowed teams to trade or release players on a whim while affording players no freedom of movement. Flood, who had endured racism throughout his career and fought for racial justice off the field during the Civil Rights Movement, refused to play for the Phillies having put down roots in St. Louis, comparing the reserve clause to a form of slavery. On Christmas Eve, he wrote to MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn: “I do not feel that I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes…I believe I have the right to consider offers from other clubs before making any decisions.” After Kuhn denied his request, Flood sued Major League Baseball over the reserve clause, but ultimately, a 5-3 Supreme Court ruling in 1972 sided with baseball. Flood paid with his career, sitting out the 1970 season and playing only 13 games in 1971 with the Washington Senators. But his sacrifice opened the door for future players across sports. Inspired by Flood, MLB Players Association Executive Director Marvin Miller found two players – the Dodgers’ Andy Messersmith and Orioles’ Dave McNally – willing to play the 1975 season without a contract, and then attacked the reserve clause again, fighting for the player freedom Flood had tried to attain just a few years earlier. Arbitrator Peter Seitz agreed, and his landmark ruling paved the way for collectively bargained free agency as we now know it. “I doubt Curt or anyone – on or off the field in any sport — could fully contemplate the significance of the stance he took back in 1969,” current MLB Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark told USA TODAY in 2019, “but as a child and student of the civil rights movement, Curt had a heightened sense of awareness about justice and fairness. The stand he took affected all athletes who have enjoyed free agency for the last half century.”
Twenty-sixth Amendment Gives Power to Young People
Until the 26th Amendment, states restricted voting to people 21 and older. With the rise of student activism and the war in Vietnam fought by 18+ year old draftees, the movement to lower the voting age grew. The 26th Amendment lowered the voting age to 18.
University of Michigan’s Lesbian-Gay Male Programs Office Founded
Jim Toy, the son of a Chinese father and Scottish-Irish mother, achieved distinction as a longtime advocate for LGBTQ persons. In 1971, he co-founded the University’s Lesbian-Gay Male Programs Office, now known as the Spectrum Center. This achievement was monumental in that it was officially the first staff office for LGTBQ students in a United States institution of higher learning.
Title IX is enacted into law
On June 23, 1972, Title IX of the education amendments of 1972 is enacted into law. Title IX prohibits federally funded educational institutions from discriminating against students or employees based on sex. As a result of Title IX, any school that receives any federal money from the elementary to university level must provide fair and equal treatment of the sexes in all areas, including athletics. Before Title IX, the NCAA offered no athletic scholarships for women and held no championships for women’s teams, and only 30,000 women participated in NCAA sports in 1972. Now, more than 200,000 participate, but gaps still exist. As Title IX nears its 50th anniversary, gaps still remain between genders and races. Less than 30 percent of women athletes are from communities of color, and according to a 2017 report, Division I athletic programs spend twice as much on men’s sports as women’s sports.
Shaul Ladany survives Holocaust and Munich Massacre to compete for Israel in Olympics
Much of Shaul Ladany’s family was killed during the Holocaust, but at age eight, Ladany is liberated from the Bergen-Belson Nazi Concentration Camp in Germany in 1944 with his parents and survives. His family later moves to Israel where Ladany ultimately becomes a top race walker, winning multiple national titles. He represents Israel at the 1972 Munich Olympics and proudly wears a Star of David on his warm-up uniform, meant to show his pride and demonstrate the survival of the Jewish people in the face of Nazi persecution. During the Games, 11 Israeli Olympic members (coaches and athletes) are kidnapped from their living quarters in the Olympic village and murdered by members of Black September, a Palestinian terrorist organization. Ladany escaped the quarters amidst the attack and ran to alert authorities to what was happening. Days later he competes in his event, the 50-kilometer race walk, and finishes in 19th place. Specializing in long-distance walking, Ladany won the 100-kilometer gold medal later that year at the World Race Walking Championships and still holds the unofficial world record in the 50-mile race walk.
Julius “Dr. J” Erving leads Nets to first ABA title
Julius “Dr. J” Erving is one of the most important players in the history of basketball. Erving led the Nets to their first ABA title in 1973–74, defeating the Utah Stars. His high-flying play style made him the face of the sport and his popularity was one of the primary reasons that the ABA merged with the NBA- changing the landscape of the sport and altering the trajectory for the league that we know and love today.
Reggie McAfee becomes first Black man to break four-minute mile
Reggie McAfee runs the mile in 3 minutes, 59.8 seconds in 1973 as a senior at the University of North Carolina. A week after his historic mile run, he broke the four-minute barrier again in winning the ACC championship and finished his career with seven sub-4-minute miles. After 26 years working for Xerox, McAfee starts the nonprofit Cross Country For Youth (CCFY) in 2006 to assist kids in the Charlotte, North Carolina, community. McAfee remains the executive director of CCFY, which introduces children ages 8-14 to cross country training, character building, nutrition concepts, and social-emotional training to develop the whole person.
Asian Americans for Equality peacefully protest
Moved to action by a developer who refuses to hire Asian workers for the massive Confucius Plaza construction project, local activists raise their voices and stage months of protests to finally prevail. DeMatteis Corp. eventually relents, agreeing to hire 27 minority workers, Asians among them. It was a major victory for the community and immediately establishes Asian Americans for Equal Employment as an organization that people could rely on. Reflecting on the dramatic events of 40 years ago, AAFE Executive Director Chris Kui says protest among New York Asians wasn’t just rare, it was unheard of at that time. “I remember the Asian community was afraid to speak up about issues they faced … lack of access to equal employment or services.”
Voting Rights Act Expanded
Provisions to the Voting Rights Act required jurisdictions to provide voting materials in other languages and multilingual assistance if they have a significant number of voters with limited or no proficiency in English.
Frank Robinson Becomes first African-American manager in MLB
Frank Robinson debuts as first African-American manager in major leagues for the Cleveland Indians.
Asian Americans for Equality protest treatment of Peter Yew
Yew, a young Chinese American living in New York City’s Chinatown, intervenes when he sees police beating a 15 year-old whom they had stopped for a traffic violation. For his concern, Yew is beaten himself on the spot and again back at the police station, where he is charged for resisting arrest and assaulting an officer. A rally against police brutality at City Hall brings out 20,000 protesters and forces the closure of most Chinatown businesses. After weeks of public pressure, all charges are dropped against Yew on July 2. Chris Kui, executive director of Asian Americans for Equality, also remembers it as a turning point: “There was a lot of discussion within the community. Some people said ‘Let’s not make trouble … it could hurt our future.’ Others even said ‘This isn’t really our country.’ But a whole new generation had a different view and said ‘This is our country. We have rights. Let’s fight for those rights.’”
Nancy Lopez overcomes discrimination to become LPGA legend
The Mexican American Lopez is one of the most decorated golfers in LPGA history, and in June 1978 — her first year on the tour — she wins the first of three major golf championships. Over a career spanning four decades, Lopez totals 48 LPGA Tour wins and was twice named the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year before induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1987. In an ESPN biography during the early 2000s, Lopez’s ex-husband shares the pain Lopez felt being unable to play on certain golf courses because of her Mexican heritage. Lopez adds looking back that she “thought we weren’t members of the country club because we couldn’t afford it. Now I think it was discrimination.”
First Polynesian in the College Football Hall of Fame
“Squirmin” Herman Wedemeyer, a Hawaiian, is inducted to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1979.
Tom Flores becomes the first Hispanic coach to win the Super Bowl
The Oakland Raiders’ Flores becomes the first minority and Hispanic head coach to win a Super Bowl as the Raiders defeat the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XV. Three seasons later, Flores would win a second Super Bowl. Before coaching, Flores in 1960 becomes the first Hispanic quarterback to start for a professional football team, starting for the Raiders.
Nine Big Ten universities affiliate women’s athletic programs in the Conference
Nine Big Ten universities vote to affiliate their women’s athletic programs with the conference. In October of 1981, the initiative went conference wide when a 10th school began affiliating their women’s athletic programs with the conference. Earlier in the year, on May 4 , the Council of Ten endorsed the Task Force report that enables universities to affiliate their women’s intercollegiate programs with the conference if they so desire. The Council of Ten was formed on March 5, 1975, consisting of three women administrators in the athletic department, two men athletic directors and a faculty representative, and was formed to study women’s varsity intercollegiate athletics.
Voting Rights Act Extended
Congress extended the Voting Rights Act for 25 years and required states to take steps to make voting more accessible for the elderly and people with disabilities.
Evelyn Ashford wins multiple gold medals
Evelyn Ashford ended a 16-year gold medal drought for the U.S. in women’s Olympic 100-meter races when she won in Los Angeles at the age of 27 and added a gold medal in the 4x100m relay. Ashford made the 1976 U.S. Olympic team in Montreal as a 19-year-old before enrolling in UCLA where she was the first female track athlete to receive a full-ride scholarship. After having a daughter in 1986, Ashford returned to track and field and won a silver in the 100m in the 1988 Seoul Olympics and another 4x100m relay gold medal. She capped her career at the age of 35 with a gold medal in the 4x100m relay at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Ashford set two 100m world records and held the world record from 1983 to 1988.
Wisconsin Women’s Cross Country brings home first women’s Big Ten Conference national title
The Wisconsin women’s cross country team completed the 1984 season with their first NCAA title, bringing home the first NCAA titel in a women’s sport for the Big Ten Conference.
Tiffany Chin becomes the first Asian American U.S. figure skating champion
At the 1985 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Chin is “fast and flawless,” the LA Times writes, en route to becoming the first Asian American and person of color to win national gold. Chin makes history despite years earlier being told by a white competitor, “You’re really good, but you know you’ll never be a champion. Figure skating champions have blond hair and blue eyes, and you don’t have either.” Chin would break barriers for future Asian American skating stars Kristi Yamaguchi and Michelle Kwan, but racism still permeated Olympic and U.S. figure skating when they competed. Corporate sponsors would still shun Yamaguchi, a Japanese American, despite winning Olympic and U.S. gold, and in 1998 a major media outlet produces an infamous headline celebrating Kwan, a Chinese American, losing to Tara Lipinski. The headline reads “American Beats Out Kwan.”
Doug Williams overcomes racism to make NFL history, blaze trail for future quarterbacks
In 1978, Williams becomes the first Black quarterback to be drafted in the first round, coming out of Grambling State University, a historically Black college. Throughout his career, Williams faces racism from NFL fans as well as from the team that drafted him, the Buccaneers. After being forced out of the NFL for a few years, Williams signs with Washington and eventually leads the team in Super Bowl XXII, becoming the first Black quarterback to start a Super Bowl, which Washington wins in a 42-10 route behind Williams’ play. Williams, who is now a senior adviser for Washington and co-founder of the Black College Football Hall of Fame, blazes a trail for the next generation of Black quarterbacks. Entering the 2021 season, four of the five highest-paid players in the NFL, three of the past six MVPs and the past two passing yardage leaders are Black quarterbacks.
Los Angeles Raiders name first Black head coach in modern NFL history
After a slow start to the 1989 season, Raiders owner Al Davis promotes Art Shell to the team’s head coaching position, making him the first Black NFL head coach since Fritz Pollard in the 1920s. In six seasons from 1989-1994, Shell finishes with a winning record five times and makes the playoffs three times, including an AFC Championship Game appearance. Shell goes 54-38 during that span, and in 2006, he returns as coach of the Raiders for one season. Diversity and equity in hiring continues to be an issue more than 30 years later, however. Entering the 2021 season, only three of the league’s 32 coaches are Black.
The Big Ten Conference is the first to establish voluntary gender equity goals in athletics
The Council of Presidents/Chancellors of the Big Ten Conference announced its unanimous commitment to achieve a level of athletics participation that is 60 percent men and 40 percent women by 1997. Big Ten universities submitted strategies to achieve the 60-40 commitment and annual review procedures were established.
The Big Ten Conference was the first conference to voluntarily adopt participation goals for female student-athletes. The objective was Phase I of the Conference’s Gender Equity Action Plan (GEAP) for conference members to commit to a 60%/40% male-female participation ratio over a five-year period (1992-1997).
Derartu Tulu and Elana Meyer take victory lap to unite Africa
Derartu Tulu of Ethiopia wins the 10,000 meters at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics in a spirited battle with Elana Meyer of South Africa, becoming the first Black African woman to win a gold medal. Tulu and Meyer, who is white, share a hand-in-hand victory lap after the race that many saw as a symbol of hope for a new Africa as apartheid in South Africa was gradually coming to an end. Tulu also won the 10,000m in 2000 at the Sydney Olympics and won the event at the 2001 World Athletics Championships in Edmonton, Alberta, after having a daughter in 1998. After finishing third in the 10,000m at the 2004 Olympics, Tulu won the 2009 New York City Marathon at the age of 37. Tulu has been the president of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation since November 2018.
In response to historically low voter registration rates, the National Voter Registration Act is passed by Congress to allow citizens to register to vote when they apply for a drivers’ license. It also required states to offer mail-in registration. More than 30 million people registered to vote in the first year.
Plaatjes overcomes apartheid in South Africa, becomes champion marathoner
Mark Plaatjes was born under apartheid rule in South Africa and could not compete in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics because South Africa was banned from competition. Plaatjes, who is Black, applied for political asylum in the United States to provide a better life for his daughter. Plaatjes won the 1991 Los Angeles Marathon and was sixth in the 1993 Boston Marathon to qualify for the U.S. team to the World Athletics Championships, receiving his U.S. citizenship three weeks before the Championships began. In Stuttgart, Germany, Plaatjes used a late surge to win the marathon and remains the only American man to win the event at the World Athletics Championships. Plaatjes has 38 career marathon wins.
Kipketer goes from Kenya to Denmark
Born in Kenya, Wilson Kipketer came to Denmark as a foreign exchange student, then applied for and was granted Danish citizenship. Kipketer won the first of his three consecutive World Athletics Championships in the men’s 800 meters in 1995 in Gothenburg, Sweden. Kipketer broke the world record twice in a 12-day span in August 1997, and his time of 1 minute, 41.11 seconds stood until it was broken in 2010. After retiring from running, Kipketer later worked for Champions for Peace, a group of famous elite athletes committed to serving peace in the world through sport.
The WNBA launches
On April 24, 1996, women’s basketball announces “We Got Next” as the NBA Board of Governors approved the concept of a Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) to begin play in June 1997. For the next 25 years, the WNBA and its athletes stand at the forefront of using their platforms as a place to promote social justice and racial equity. From Sheryl Swoopes advancing equality for people identifying as LGTBQ+ to Maya Moore leaving to prompt criminal justice reform to wearing shirts with bullet holes following the shooting of Jacob Blake, championing social justice has always been an integral part of the W. “We are a walking protest at all times as a W.N.B.A. athlete,” Mistie Bass told the New York Times in 2020.“If you think about it, we have so many different stigmas. We’re just constantly in the fight. I don’t think we have ever not been in a fight for equality, for justice.”
University of Michigan hires first African American athletic director
Tom Goss became the first African American athletic director of the University of Michigan. During his short tenure, Goss led Michigan to national titles in football, ice hockey and men’s gymnastics.
Election Problems Highlighted
The infamous Bush-Gore Presidential race led to an agonizing recount in the state of Florida and highlighted problems with the outdated U.S. election process. Faulty equipment, bad ballot design, inconsistent rules and procedure all played a part.
Byron Scott becomes first and only coach to lead the Nets to the NBA Finals
In 2000, Scott took over a struggling New Jersey Nets team. He was the head coach that lead a dramatic franchise turnaround, as the Nets raced to a franchise record of 52 wins in only his second season in charge. In the process, they won their first Atlantic Division crown and appeared in their first NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Nets lost to the Lakers but returned to win the Eastern Conference again the following season, making it back-to-back NBA Finals appearances for Scott and co.
Cathy Freeman first Indigenous Australian to win Olympic Gold
Freeman is the first Indigenous Australian to win an Olympic gold medal when she sped to victory in the 400-meter dash at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Freeman also lit the flame at the opening ceremonies of the Sydney Olympics. She earlier won the 400m at the 1997 and 1999 World Athletics Championships, and was the silver medalist at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. After retiring from competition, Freeman created a foundation to support Indigenous students and was also an ambassador for the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation.
Michigan Athletics wins first women’s national title
The Michigan field hockey team wins its first NCAA team championship in a women’s sport.
Mary Sue Coleman becomes Michigan’s first female president
Coleman became U-M’s first female president after serving seven years as president of the University of Iowa. She led U-M during the worst economic downturn since the Depression with new faculty hires, greater interdisciplinary teaching and research, a vibrant entrepreneurial culture, major building projects, and the $3.2 billion Michigan Difference campaign. A strong advocate of diversity, she launched academic partnerships on three continents. She retired after 12 years as president in 2014.
Help America Vote Act passed
The Help America Vote Act placed new mandates on states and localities to replace old voting equipment, create statewide voter registration lists and provide provisional ballots so eligible voters are not turned away if their names are not on the list. It also aimed to improve people with disabilities ability to cast private, independent ballots.
Bob Johnson Buys NBA Expansion Team in Charlotte
The NBA awards its expansion franchise in Charlotte to Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, making him the first African American to become the principal owner of a major league sports team.
The NFL establishes the Rooney Rule
Named after Dan Rooney, the chairman and president of the Pittsburgh Steelers and former chairman of the league’s diversity committee, the NFL institutes the Rooney Rule in 2003, requiring teams to interview at least one minority candidate for head coaching positions. At the time the rule was created, only seven minority candidates had been head coaches in NFL history. In 2020, the rule is amended to require teams to interview at least two minority candidates from outside their organization for any vacant head-coaching job and at least one minority candidate from outside their organization for any vacant offensive, defensive or special-teams coordinator job. Additionally, it is expanded to include a requirement that teams and the league office interview minority and/or female applicants for executive-level positions.
Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and the NFL work with developers to reopen the New Orleans Superdome in record time–a year after Hurricane Katrina
Defeating the Atlanta Falcons in their first home game since Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans Saints reached across racial, and socioeconomic lines to bring together a City that was ravaged by the deadliest hurricane the U.S. had ever seen.
Indianapolis Colts’ head coach becomes first African-American to win Super Bowl
Indianapolis Colts’ Tony Dungy, becomes the first African-American head coach to win a Super Bowl Championship as the Colts defeat the Chicago Bears.
Erik Spoelstra is first Asian American head coach in any men’s major U.S. sports
In the spring of 2008, NBA icon Pat Riley steps down as Miami Heat head coach and handpicks the up-and-coming Spoelstra to replace him. Spoelstra, at 38, is the first Asian American to be the head coach of any team among the four major men’s U.S. sports – baseball, basketball, football and hockey. Spoelstra quickly establishes himself as one of the NBA’s best coaches, and over his career he coaches his Heat teams to five NBA Finals, winning two. Said Spoelstra in an ESPN The Undefeated interview: “I would love to be able to talk to owners, general managers and administrators in college, or athletic directors in high school,” Spoelstra, 49, said, “to be able to open their eyes to some very talented young coaches out here of a different ethnicity.” During the COVID-19 pandemic, Spoelstra also used his voice to speak out against the sharp rise in anti-Asian racism in the country, telling the Associated Press, “Look, I am Asian American. I’m proud to be Asian American. And seeing what’s happening, with another just outright form of racism and hatred, it really is sickening. It breaks my heart. It is despicable.”
Bryan Clay represents Hawaii, wins Olympic gold
Bryan Clay, who has a Japanese mother and a Black father, is considered the best track and field athlete from the state of Hawaii. He captured the silver medal in the decathlon at the 2004 Athens Olympics before winning the decathlon at the 2005 World Athletics Championships. He wins gold in the event at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, joining an extensive line of American decathlete greats to achieve that feet. He later starts the Bryan Clay Foundation to support students in need and provide opportunities they otherwise would not have.
Black College Football Hall of Fame
To honor the greatest football players and coaches from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), the Black College Football Hall of Fame (BCFHOF) is established in October 2009 by founders and legendary NFL quarterbacks James Harris and Doug Williams. The BCFHOF has a permanent home at the Pro Football Hall of Fame to tell the story of HBCUs. The two organizations work together on joint programs and events, including the BCFHOF Classic. Currently, 34 of the 354 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame are from an HBCU – nearly 10%.
First Chinese American drafted into NFL
Ed Wang is drafted by the Buffalo Bills, becoming the first Chinese American to be drafted into the NFL.
The Phoenix Suns wear Los Suns jersey as an act of solidarity with member of the Hispanic Community in Arizona following the passage of a state law allowing police officers to question individuals who appear to be undocumented.
Jeremy Lin plays makes NBA history, then uses platform to stop Asian hate
Lin overcomes racism on the basketball court from a young age, recalling incidents of discrimination while playing as early as the sixth grade. It doesn’t stop Lin from pursuing his dream, however, and he becomes the first American of Chinese or Taiwanese descent to play in the NBA when he takes the court for the Warriors in 2010. But “Linsanity” doesn’t truly begin until the following year as a New York Knick when on Feb. 4, 2012, Lin scores 25 points against the Nets, sparking a seven-game winning streak. Less than a week later, Lin squares off against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, scoring 38 points and launching himself into superstar status. Lin would become an NBA roster mainstay for the next decade, and in 2019 he becomes the first Asian American player to win an NBA title. As Lin begins reaching the end of his career, he begins using his platform more and more to combat racism. Lin says early in his life and career he was naïve to the racism, including systemic and subtle, or chose to ignore it. Lin truly embraces his position as an athlete with the influence to create social change starting in 2020 as hate against Asian Americans and the AAPI community rises during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The most decorated figure skater of all time
Michelle Kwan, the most decorated figure skater of all time, is inducted into U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame. She retired as a two-time Olympic medalist, five-time World champion and nine-time U.S. champion.
Sarah Attar opens doors for women athletes in Saudi Arabia
Sarah Attar is the first woman to represent Saudi Arabia in the Olympics when she runs in the heats of the 800 meters at the 2012 London Olympics. Attar was born and raised in the United States but competes for Saudi Arabia as she holds dual citizenship. Attar’s participation prompts Saudi Arabia to create a new women’s division of its national sports federation. Attar also ran the marathon in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016. That year, four women athletes, including two track athletes, compete for Saudi Arabia at the Olympics. Qatar and Brunei also send female athletes to the Olympics for the first time in 2012.
Poverty doesn’t slow down Amos
Nijel Amos shocked almost everyone when, as an 18-year-old at the 2012 London Olympics, he ran 1:41.73 in the 800 meters to win a silver medal behind Kenya’s David Rudisha, who set the still-standing world record of 1:40.91. Only Rudisha and former world record-holder Wilson Kipketer have run faster than Amos, who was raised in poverty in Botswana, orphaned, and then taken care of by his grandmother, whom he credits for this success. Amos, who trains with the Oregon Track Club Elite in Eugene, Oregon, will be among the favorites in the 800m at the 2022 World Athletics Championships.
Black Lives Matter
The Black Lives Matter Movement began with three women in their late 20s and early 30s to protest violence and systemic racism against black people. The movement exploded into national view in 2014 after the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. Among many other things, this movement has helped empower communities into fully becoming civic activists – electing candidates they believe in and protesting unjust policies.
Shelby County v Holder
Landmark Supreme Court case strikes down major parts of the Voting Rights Act, allowing states to pass laws that could potentially restrict voting.
Barriers to Voting Increase – Again
North Carolina passes a voter identification law that many saw as an attempt to suppress people of color. Texas institutes a strict voter identification law that had previously been blocked by the Voting Rights Act because of its impact on low-income people’s and racial minorities’ right to vote. Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Virginia also enacted restrictions with their newfound power from Shelby County v. Holder. Civil rights groups and the U.S. Department of Justice fought and were able to strike down the North Carolina law. A federal judge said it targeted African Americans with “almost surgical precision”.
Arizona State retires Navajo athlete Ryneldi Becenti’s jersey
Raised in Fort Defiance on the Navajo Nation reservation in Arizona, Becenti’s passion for basketball eventually takes her to Arizona State, where in the 1990s she stars for the women’s basketball team. She immediately lifts the program to the NCAA Tournament, a place it had not been for nearly a decade, and in 1997 she becomes the first Native American to play in the WNBA. Following a career that spans multiple continents, she returns to Arizona State in 2013 for the ceremony retiring her jersey. She was the first Sun Devils women’s basketball player to receive that honor.
Voting Rights Organizations Get Involved
Voting rights organizations multiply and activate to protect and advance the right to vote. They challenge unconstitutional barriers to voting, charge on-the-ground advocacy groups to advance pro-voter policies and engage non-partisan efforts to register, educate and mobilize underrepresented groups.
Little Leaguer Mo’Ne Davis graces cover of Sports Illustrated, joining history of Black women in baseball
On Aug. 15, 2014, Davis becomes a national sensation when she not only becomes the first girl to win a Little League World Series postseason game but does so in dominating fashion, striking out eight over six innings while allowing only two infield hits and no runs. Davis, the 18th girl to play in the LLWS, captivates America with her blazing fastball, setting records for viewership that still stand. Women playing professional baseball dates back to the 1800s, and the first known Black woman to play professionally is Dolly Vardens. From 1910-11, the Black Bronchos from St. Louis play professionally across the country’s heartland. In 1953, the Negro Leagues’ Indianapolis Clowns become the first professional baseball team to hire a female player, signing Toni Stone in an effort to replace home run king Hank Aaron. Mamie Johnson and Connie Morgan join the Clowns two seasons later.
First Polynesian wins Heisman Trophy
Quarterback Marcus Mariota, a Samoan, becomes the first Polynesian to with the Heisman Trophy in 2014.
Michigan State creates Diversity & Leadership Committee
Michigan State Athletics forms the Diversity & Leadership Committee, committed to informing student-athletes on social justices and equal opportunities.
Serena returns to Indian Wells after Williams sisters’ 13-year boycott
In 2015, Serena Williams returns to the Indian Wells Masters after the Williams sisters began boycotting the event in 2002 after racist abuse during the previous year’s tournament. Racial slurs, including the N-word, were directed at the sisters and their father following Venus’ withdrawal from her semifinal match vs. Serena because of an injury. The Williams sisters declared they would never return to the tournament. That 2001 incident represents only a fraction of the racist and sexist abuse, both unmistakable and coded, targeting the Williams sisters during their illustrious careers as two of the greatest athletes in sports history. (Serena’s 23 Grand Slam titles is most all time in the modern era.) Of that moment in 2001, Serena wrote it “haunted me for a long time. It haunted Venus and our family as well. But most of all, it angered and saddened my father. He dedicated his whole life to prepping us for this incredible journey, and there he had to sit and watch his daughter being taunted, sparking cold memories of his experiences growing up in the South.” But in 2015, Serena returns to the tournament, writing “Indian Wells was a pivotal moment of my story, and I am a part of the tournament’s story as well. Together we have a chance to write a different ending.”
Jessica Mendoza is first woman analyst for MLB postseason game
Mendoza, who is Mexican American and a two-time Olympic medalist in softball, becomes the first woman to serve as an analyst for a MLB postseason game when she calls the Astros vs. Yankees divisional playoff series. Five years later, she becomes the first woman to serve as a game analyst for the World Series on any platform, calling the Dodgers vs. Rays series for radio.
St. Louis Rams players show solidarity in support of unarmed teen killed by a Ferguson police officer
Following the Aug. 2014 death of 18-year old Michael Brown at the hands of a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer, St. Louis Rams players Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin, Jared Cook, Chris Givens and Kenny Britt come out of the tunnel for team introductions with their hands raised in reportedly the same fashion as Brown just before he was killed. The pose is a symbol for nationwide protests as activists yelled “Hands up, don’t shoot.”
Missouri football players boycott football-activities until school president resigns
Following several racially charged incidents at the University of Missouri, and the campus wide student protests criticizing university president Tim Wolfe’s handling of the matter, the football team pledged to boycott all football-related activities until Wolfe resigned or was fired. The school’s AD and its longtime coach Gary Pinkel stood with the boycotting players, matter-of-factly stating “The Mizzou Family stands as one. We are united. We are behind our players.” Days later, Wolfe stepped down.
Four NBA stars attend ESPYS Awards, calling for social change
Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James take the stage together at the 2016 ESPY Awards in Los Angeles and urge their fellow athletes to be leaders for racial justice and social change.
Ibtihaj Muhammad wins Bronze Medal at 2016 Summer Olympic Games
Muhammad, a sabre fencer, wins the bronze medal as part of Team USA in the Team Sabre during the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Brazil. She becomes the first female Muslim American athlete to earn a medal at the Olympics and also the first Muslim American woman to wear a hijab while competing for the United States in the Olympics. Following her historic medal, Muhammad uses her platform to tackle racism and Islamophobia and educate others on making a difference. As a woman athlete who is both Black and Muslim, she’s working to remove the barriers, biases and stereotypes that stood in her way. In a 2018 Yahoo! Sports interview, she said “I can’t sit here as the first Muslim woman to represent the United States at the Olympic Games and be numb on these issues that directly affect me.”
Colin Kaepernick protests during the national anthem
In response to police shootings and brutality against people of color, including the 2015 killing of Mario Woods by San Francisco police, Kaepernick first takes a knee during the national anthem before a 2016 preseason game against the San Diego Chargers. He chooses to kneel instead of sit during the anthem to show respect for the military, after speaking with former NFL player and U.S. Army Green Beret Nate Boyer. His act of protest to bring attention to police brutality and oppression of people of color continues throughout the 2016 season. Of his protest, Kaepernick said “If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.” Kaepernick has not played in an NFL game since the end of the 2016 season.
USWNT player Megan Rapinoe makes an unprecedented statement on international stage
Showing solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, the U.S. Women’s National Team star kneels during the national anthem before an international match with Thailand in Columbus, Ohio. Research indicates no soccer player has ever knelt during the national anthem before an international competition anywhere, not just within the United States. Said Rapinoe: “It was a little nod to Kaepernick and everything that he’s standing for right now. I think it’s actually pretty disgusting the way he was treated and … [w]e need to have a more thoughtful, two-sided conversation about racial issues in this country. “Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties. It was something small that I could do and something that I plan to keep doing in the future and hopefully spark some meaningful conversation around it.”
Highly-decorated UC Davis gymnast Alexis Brown continues to use athletic platform to advocate for marginalized communities
Brown kneels during the national anthem at all of her gymnastics meets as a symbol of protest against police brutality and systemic racism. As an extension of her advocacy, Brown also creates the African Diaspora Student Athlete Support Group, recognizing the need for a space on campus that allows this support group to discuss ideas, issues, shared experiences and resources while also creating a larger sense of community on campus. Being so dominant in her sport, Brown says she understands the power of her platform.
Big Ten Voting Challenge
The Big Ten Voting Challenge is a nonpartisan initiative created to spur civic engagement and encourage more students across the Big Ten to vote on Election Day. When comparing voter turnout from the 2014 and 2018 midterm elections, turnout increased from 14 percent to 41 percent.
University of Michigan’s Brienne Minor becomes first African-American woman to claim the NCAA singles title
Minor (2016-19) became the first African-American woman to claim the NCAA tennis singles title, winning as a sophomore in 2017. She earned four All-America citations, the most by a Wolverine, and ranks seventh in program history with 110 singles victories. She was also the 2016-17 Michigan Female Athlete of the Year.
WNBA crowns Diana Taurasi as league’s all-time leading scorer
Taurasi, who identifies mostly as Argentine and Italian, is one of the most decorated basketball players of the last two decades and in June 2017 eclipses the WNBA’s all-time scoring mark. In 2009, Taurasi becomes the first Latina woman to win the WNBA Finals MVP. She might have trouble finding space for it on her mantel, as the hoops legend is a three-time collegiate national champion and WNBA champion, league rookie of the year, five-time scoring champion and former assists leader. Her excellence goes beyond the U.S. borders as she’s also won championships in Russia, Turkey and in the Euroleague.
Yulimar Rojas, staunch LGBTQ+ advocate, dominates the triple jump
Venezuelan LGBTQ athlete Yulimar Rojas has won the women’s triple jump at every major global championship since finishing second in the event at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, and she is unbeaten in the event overall since September 2019. She won gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and broke her own indoor world record at the 2022 World Athletics Championships with a leap of 15.74m (51 feet, 7 ¾ inches). Rojas won at the outdoor 2017 and 2019 World Athletics Championships. She also is the indoor 2016, 2018 and 2022 World Athletics Championships gold medalist.
New York Liberty Host First UNITY Game
In 2016, The Liberty’s UNITY social justice platform was initiated by players in response to the killings of unarmed Black men and women such as Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Alton Sterling and countless others. UNITY aims to ignite activism, educate fans, mobilize the local community, empower players and amplify marginalized voices through key partnerships, social media activations and events. In 2017, in partnership with RISE, the Liberty hosted their first UNITY game, which includes daylong programming such as a, including a town-hall style event, concourse activations, fan giveaways and community outreach.
Police, firefighters and military join Cleveland Browns for National Anthem
Browns players ran out of the tunnel prior to their game against the Steelers accompanied by police, firefighters and EMTs. They also stood together during the playing of the national anthem, joined by ownership and team executives, and the Browns ran a video with the theme of unity prior to the anthem.
USC, UCLA, RISE & Athlete Ally Host Athlete Activism and the Fight for Equality
Professional athletes spoke with 140 USC and UCLA student-athletes about advocating for racial and LGBTQ equality and mobilizing the athletic community across various social justice movements. The panelists discussed issues of race, gender and sexuality across sports and encouraged student-athletes to use their platforms for good. After the panels, the student-athletes joined the panelists in breakout groups to discuss ways to unite activist athletes and best practices for using their platforms to advocate for issues of social inequality.
Voter Suppression Continues
USA Today found that election officials closed thousand of polling places with a disproportionate impact on communities of color. In Georgia, voting hours were cut and early voting was restricted on weekends, seen as an attempt to target the nonpartisan “Souls to the Polls” initiative that encouraged churchgoers to vote on Sunday after church. Both measures were defeated in the state assembly.
Record Number of Voters
In 2018, 116 million people – 49.7% of the eligible population – voted. This set a 100-year record for midterm races and saw record numbers of women and candidates of color running at every level. Voters approved important state ballot measures to expand the electorate and improve voting. This included lifting the permanent ban on voting for people with a felony criminal record in Florida.
America East Conference schools gather for first time to talk inclusion
In October 2019, America East gathered 70 student-athlete and staff representatives from all nine of its schools at the University of Vermont for its first Spread Respect Forum. Under the stewardship of Amy Huchthausen, AE’s first female and Asian-American commissioner, the conference aimed to lean on experts who could catalyze honest conversations that might lead to changes on each of the conference’s campuses. Attendees returned to their respective campuses with action plans and recommendations.
Chand inspires LGBTQ+ community in India
Dutee Chand is India’s national women’s record holder in 100 meters and 4×100 relay. She came out in 2019 as India’s first openly gay athlete after the country’s Supreme Court decriminalized homosexuality. Chand competed at the 2017 and 2019 World Athletics Championships, and the 2016 and 2020 Olympics. Chand’s sexuality was a controversial topic among her family, and her sister threatened to out her before Chand publicly announced her sexual orientation. Chand is seen as a role model and hero by many in the gay community in India.
The NFL and Players Coalition launch Inspire Change initiative
The NFL and Players Coalition announce the launch of the Inspire Change initiative, which showcases the collaborative efforts of players, owners and the league to create positive change in communities across the country. Working together with the Players Coalition, NFL teams and the league office continue supporting programs and initiatives reducing barriers to opportunity, with a focus on three priority areas: education and economic advancement, police and community relations and criminal justice reform.
Kyler Murray is the No. 1 NFL draft pick
A first-round pick in baseball, Murray opts to follow his heart and pursue football, eventually becoming the No. 1 overall pick, a Pro Bowler and Rookie of the Year winner. Murray’s maternal grandmother is South Korean, and in 2021 Murray said he continues to pursue learning more about his Asian heritage. As a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at Oklahoma, Murray and his mother made the calculated choice to wear a black, dragon-print kimono jacket before and after a game. “When we saw the jacket it was like, ‘Gotta have it,’” Missy Murray, Kyler’s mother, told The Oklahoman. “Cause we’re all about representing our Asian culture. I know a lot of people are like, ‘What is he?’ I get asked that a lot myself. So we do subtle things to represent that. That subtle statement he made on Saturday came across as kind of a strong statement, but it’s awesome.”
Kevin Warren named commissioner of the Big Ten Conference
Kevin Warren is the sixth commissioner to hold the position and the first African American to be named commissioner at one of Division I’s five largest conferences.
Gold medalist Kerron Clement comes out
Kerron Clement, a Trinidadian-born American track & field athlete who competes in the 400-meter and 400-meter hurdles, won two Olympic gold medals and five world championships during his career and held an indoor world record in the 400m for nearly 13 years. In 2019, at age 33, Clement announces he is gay at a Nike event in Los Angeles and is considered the first U.S. men’s track star to come out while actively competing. “I was hiding that part because of what society thought,” he said, according to Outsports. “But it’s OK to be that way… Love is love. I have an attraction to men. It’s who I am and it’s what made me become the athlete I am today.”
Test Your Knowledge
See what you learned – click here to take our Road to Progress Quiz and test your knowledge.
Asian American athletes condemn racism stemming from COVID-19 pandemic
Pandemic-driven rises in anti-Asian racism are so pronounced that in an American Journal of Public Health article, psychiatrist Justin A. Chen, MD, MPH, and his coauthors describe it as a “secondary contagion” threatening this population. By year’s end, the FBI announces there was a 73-percent increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans in 2020. Early on in the outbreak, Asian American athletes like Natalie Chou, Katelyn Ohashi, Jeremy Lin and Taylor Rapp condemn the rising racism. Said Lin, “For me, I felt like I had to come out and say something. To not feel welcome, or feel safe physically, is just a different level. That’s something that I really want to make sure I took a stance on.”
In the aftermath of the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, police murder George Floyd, sparking national reckoning on race
Two months after Louisville police killed Breonna Taylor and less than a month after video showing Ahmaud Arbery’s murder is publicly released, video shows four Minneapolis officers involved in the murder of the 46-year-old Floyd. Officer Derek Chauvin pins Floyd to the ground, pressing his knee against Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Floyd died during the act of police brutality, sparking protests throughout the world. It’s estimated as many as 26 million Americans participate in demonstrations following his murder.
Athletes join protests, help lead movement for racial equity
Two months after Louisville police kill Breonna Taylor and less than a month after video showing Ahmaud Arbery’s murder is publicly released, multiple athletes at all levels of sport take part in nationwide protests following the murder of George Floyd. Former Texans coach Bill O’Brien and star player J.J. Watt march in Houston, where Floyd was raised and is eventually laid to rest. The Boston Celtics’ Jaylen Brown drives 15 hours to protest in Atlanta, where the Indiana Pacers’ Malcolm Brogdon speaks about his grandfather marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. NBA stars Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Trae Young also join protests, and Michael Jordan’s Jordan brand announces a 10-year, $100 million donation to organizations fighting racism. Tennis star Coco Gauff, at 16 years old, speaks at a protest in Florida, and college athletes, including the Clemson football team pictured here, lead protests on campus and march through towns. Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad marches in Los Angeles, as does Miami Heat assistant Caron Butler. Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid and more than 100 other NHL players make statements denouncing racial inequality, acknowledging their privilege and pledging to learn and do better. Tyler Seguin protests in Dallas and Zdeno Chara in Boston, while Jonathan Toews meets with activists in Chicago. MLB players such as Aaron Judge, Dexter Fowler, Bryce Harper and C.C. Sabathia speak out through various platforms. Minnesota Timberwolves stars Karl Anthony-Towns and Josh Okogie help lead protests in Minneapolis and in the coming days the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx host a RISE Critical Conversation with the organization, city mayor and law enforcement to discuss next steps.
The Plaza at Barclays Center becomes Hub for Social Justice Activism
The public space outside of the Barclays Center, home to the Brooklyn Nets and New York Liberty, has been the scene of a variety of protests and other gatherings starting with the 2020 demonstrations following the murder of George Floyd. “We belong here” and “You belong here” signage at the front and rear entrances, respectively, serves as a constant affirmation and call to action.
NFL stars share video demanding league condemns racism and support player protests
In the passionate video, players such as Patrick Mahomes, Michael Thomas, Saquon Barkley, Deshaun Watson, Odell Beckham Jr. and DeAndre Hopkins, among others, relay how not only could they have been George Floyd, but they are Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Garner and the many other Black men, women and children killed. They also demand the NFL state that it condemns “racism and the systemic oppression of black people,” admit it was wrong to silence players from peacefully protesting and believe black lives matter. The following day, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell released a video and statement, saying those exact words: “We, the NFL, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black People. We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the NFL, believe Black Lives Matter.” Goodell later said he wants to be part of the much-needed change in America, and apologized to Colin Kaepernick for the league’s handling of his protests in 2016.
To see the video, click here.
WNBA players opt out of season to focus on social justice
On June 18, two-time WNBA champion Renee Montgomery tweeted she would opt out of the WNBA season to focus on social justice issues, including voter rights and helping HBCU Morris Brown College’s $5 million fundraising campaign to regain its accreditation. (Its accreditation application was accepted in November.) Natasha Cloud would opt out a few days later.
Kylin Hill prompts change to Mississippi’s state flag
Hill, a star running back for Mississippi State, tweeted “Either change the flag or I won’t be representing this State anymore & I meant that .. I’m tired.” Days earlier, the Southeastern Conference and NCAA announced there would be no postseason or championship events in the state until the Confederate emblem was removed from the state flag. On June 28, the state legislature passed a bill removing the flag and laying the ground for a new design.
NASCAR rallies behind Bubba Wallace after a noose is found in his stall
Less than two weeks after NASCAR bans the Confederate flag after comments from Wallace, the only Black driver in NASCAR’s top circuit, a noose is found in his garage stall at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama on June 21. NASCAR stands behind Wallace, releasing a statement saying it is “outraged” and launches an immediate investigation in collaboration with the FBI. The following day, moments before the Talladega race and with Wallace in his car, the 39 other drivers and their crews march down pit road as they push his car to the front of the line. When the group reached the front line, Wallace climbs out of his car and began crying. In the days after the race, the investigation uncovers the rope was tied as a noose but wasn’t targeted at Wallace as it had been there since at least the previous year. In 2021, Wallace returns to Talladega to capture his first win.
Softball players quit team, start new one after GM posts anti-kneeling tweet
Connie May, the team general manager for the Scrap Yard Dawgs, an independent professional softball team in Texas, posted a picture before the game of players standing for the national anthem and celebrated it with a tweet tagging Donald Trump. The coaches and players, many who will represent the U.S. at the 2021 Olympics, felt May used them as political pawns, and as a result they quit the team and started a separate one without May. Kelsey Stewart, one of the handful of Black players on the Scrap Yard Dawgs and Olympic team, said on Twitter, “I AM HURT … I am disgusted … as a BLACK softball player I DO NOT … DO NOT stand with a statement like this … if you didn’t understand racism and what was going on the last month. This … THIS IS IT. This is EXACTLY what we’ve been trying to change.”
Women’s soccer players wear Black Lives Matters shirts
During the inaugural game of the NWSL Challenge Cup, players wore shirts that read Black Lives Matter and knelt during the national anthem, as many players would do in the games that followed. Five months later in the U.S. Women’s National Team’s return game after a 261-day hiatus, the team wore warm-up jackets with the words Black Lives Matter on the front, and nearly every member of the team took a knee during the national anthem. “We love our country, and it is a true honor to represent America. It is also our duty to demand that the liberties and freedoms that our country was founded on extend to everyone,” said a statement team members shared before the game.
WNBA players, WNBPA call for removal of U.S. senator Kelly Loeffler as Atlanta Dream owner
Loeffler, a Republican senator from Georgia, writes a letter to the WNBA commissioner “emphatically opposing” the league’s support of the “Black Lives Matter and “Say Her Name” movement. The Atlanta Dream release their own statement from their players that states “Black lives matter. We are the women of the Atlanta Dream. We are women who support a movement. We are strong and we are fearless. We offer a voice to the voiceless. Our team is united in the Movement for Black Lives. It’s not extreme to demand change after centuries of inequality. This is not a political statement. This is a statement of humanity.” Dream and WNBA players go on to endorse a Loeffler challenger for her Senate seat, Raphael Warnock. Research from the Washington Post indicated the WNBA players’ support for Warnock turned the tides in the Senate race, and Warnock eventually defeats Loeffler in a January runoff to win her seat.
Nearly 200 MLS players protest racial injustice, standing silent for 8 minutes and 46 seconds
At the MLS is Back tournament at Disney World – signaling the return of major professional men’s team sports in the U.S. since the COVID-19 pandemic began – nearly 200 players took the field for an 8-minute, 46-second moment of silence to protest racial injustice. Players wore black T-shirts, black gloves and black facemasks emblazoned with Black Lives Matter. The shirts had varying slogans that included Black And Proud, Silence Is Violence and Black All The Time. The players walked toward midfield, raised their right arms one at a time and held the pose so long that some could be seen stretching fatigued muscles afterward.
Julian Edelman connects with DeSean Jackson after anti-Semitic remarks
On July 7, Jackson posts the words of the widely condemned anti-Semitic and homophobic leader of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, and a falsely attributed anti-Semitic quote by Adolf Hitler. Patriots receiver Julian Edelman, who is Jewish, then posts an Instagram message to Jackson to coordinate a moment to learn from each other: Edelman will take him to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Jackson will take him to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The two agree to connect in the offseason to “use our experiences to educate one another and grow together.”
University of Texas makes sweeping changes following unified movement from student-athletes
In June, close to 40 student-athletes across seven sports within Texas Athletics wrote a two-page letter to the administration requesting better support for Black athletes and students, to honor former Black athletes at the school, remove statues or the names of buildings with Confederate or racist ties and the retirement of the song “Eyes of Texas.” In July, the school agreed to many of those changes and in November unveiled a new statue of Julius Whittier, the Longhorns’ first Black letterman, but the school did not end the “Eyes of Texas” tradition. Texas’ decision was part of a summer of sweeping changes within college athletics.
NFL’s Washington club announces retirement of racist team name and logo; MLB’s Cleveland club does the same.
Dozens of Native American groups, tribal nations, national tribal organizations, individuals and civil rights group have protested Washington’s 87-year-old team mascot and asked for its removal dating back more than a half-century. Washington owner Dan Snyder said he would never change the logo and team name – a racist slur toward Native Americans – but corporate pressure in 2020 forces him to retire them. Top team sponsor FedEx says it will terminate its stadium naming rights deal, worth an additional $45 million, if Snyder did not change the team name. Other sponsors, including PepsiCo, Nike and Bank of America, make similar demands. Since known as the Washington Football Team, the club on February 2, 2022 officially becomes the Washington Commanders. In 2018, MLB’s Cleveland club, facing similar backlash for its team name and mascot, announces it will retire its “Chief Wahoo” logo for the 2019 season, and in December 2020 says it will change the team’s nickname for the 2022 season. In July 2021, they reveal their new name, the Cleveland Guardians.
Kings, RISE and When We All Vote relaunch “Rally the Vote”
The Sacramento Kings, in partnership with RISE and When We All Vote, re-launched Rally the Vote, a first-of-its-kind nonpartisan coalition of professional sports franchises focused on getting fans to register to vote and participate in elections. Starting with 20 teams in August, the coalition expanded to more than 50 organizations across the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, MLL, MLS, WNBA and NWSL by Election Day.
Jason Wright, Danita Johnson, Kim Ng and Dany Garcia break barriers across leagues
The Washington Football Team hired Wright, a former NFL running back, as team president, making him the first Black person to hold that position in the NFL’s 100-year history. Wright was named Sports Business Journal’s “Best Hire of 2020.” In December, Johnson became the first Black woman or man to be hired as an MLS team president when D.C. United hired her as president of business operations. She previously was president and COO of the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks. In November, the Marlins hired Ng as the team’s general manager, making her the first woman to hold that position. Ng was MLB’s senior vice president of baseball operations for the past nine years and the highest-ranking Asian American female baseball executive. In August, Garcia became the first woman to own a professional sports league. Garcia, entertainer Dwayne Johnson and a private equity firm puchased the XFL, and Johnson wrote that Garcia was the “architect” behind the deal.
Athletes strike across sports, demanding justice and accountability after police shoot Jacob Blake
On Aug. 23 in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a white police officer shot Blake, who is Black, seven times in the back as he opened the door of his car, where his kids were sitting in at the time. After a video of the shooting went public and more shootings occur during local protests, the Milwaukee Bucks, who play about 60 miles from Kenosha, refuse to take the court for Game 5 of their first-round playoff series. The team’s statement reads, in part, “Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball.” Their opponent, the Orlando Magic, refused to play as well, forgoing a forfeit despite trailing in the series. The NBA would postpone its remaining games that day through Aug. 28. In the WNBA on Aug. 26, the Washington Mystics’ players wore white shirts with a letter each to spell Blake’s name on the front. On the backs were seven bullet holes. Players across teams would kneel and link arms during the national anthem before walking off the court. Elsewhere, the Detroit Lions canceled their practice on Aug. 25 and instead players discussed measures they could take and publicly advocated for change. On Aug. 27., nine other NFL teams canceled football activities, as did multiple college football teams. In MLB on Aug. 26, the Brewers and Reds game was called as players striked, and two games would later be postponed. The NHL postponed its playoff games on Aug. 27 and 28. MLS canceled five games as players walked off the pitch, and Naomi Osaka announced she was skipping her Aug. 26 tennis semifinal in protest.
Mets, Marlins players leave Black Lives Matters shirt on home plate
The New York Mets, led out of the dugout by Black player Dominic Smith, and the Miami Marlins took the field for their Aug. 27 game and moments after the leadoff hitter entered the batter’s box, the teams removed their hats and held a 42-second moment of silence. The players and coaches jointly walked off before a pitch was thrown on the eve of the day MLB would celebrate Jackie Robinson Day. Marlins center fielder Lewis Brinson placed a Black Lives Matter T-shirt on home plate in a poignant display as the teams left the field. “The words on the shirt speak for themselves, just having it in the center of everything, just knowing that both teams are unified, and that we agreed to do this,” he said. “And it was the right thing to do.”
New York Liberty Host Fourth Annual UNITY Game
In the wake of the murder of Breonna Taylor in 2020, the team hosted “STAY LOUD: Why We #SayHerName” to educate fans about the origins of the #SayHerName campaign, the many Black women victims who have died due to brutal law enforcement encounters, insight behind the disproportionate media coverage, and the role of sports activism and allyship in the pursuit for justice. Players hosted a virtual panel on August 26th and key activations during their fourth annual UNITY game vs. the Dallas Wings on August 27th. Click here to view more about the campaign.
Naomi Osaka wins US Open while honoring Black victims of police brutality or racist violence
Osaka, whose mother is Japanese and father is Haitian, won all seven of her 2020 US Open matches to capture her third grand slam title. As part of each match, she wears a mask with the name of a Black man, woman or child who died from police brutality or violence rooted in racism. The names: Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Philando Castile and Tamir Rice.
LeBron James helps recruit more than 40,000 poll workers
As part of James’ More Than a Vote, which he started in June with other Black athletes and entertainers to protect African Americans’ voting rights, James helped recruit more than 40,000 poll workers in a year when many states risked having an insufficient number of workers because of the pandemic. James and his group also helped restore voting rights and pay necessary fines for formerly incarcerated people.
Athletes, teams and open sporting venues help set record U.S. voter turnout
Athletes, leagues and organizations make voting and civic engagement one of its top social justice initiatives, and across sports, voter education and registration efforts take place. RISE holds almost 90 voter education and registration sessions for professional teams and collegiate athletics departments leading up to Election Day, and roughly 70 sports venues open their doors as polling sites throughout the process, part of an effort that began years ago that included the work of RISE board members Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and former NFL executive Scott Pioli. Said Kathy Boockvar, Pennsylvania’s Secretary of State: “There is no question that seeing the athletes and the leaders in athletics made a huge difference in the enthusiasm.” After the 2020 election, USA Today research indicates nearly 300,000 Americans voted in sports venues that election cycle.
U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee defies IOC rule and ends ban on athlete protests
The International Olympic Committee’s Rule 50 has long banned protests at the Olympics, but it was the U.S. committee that sent track & field athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos home from the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City when the two raised their fists to protest racial injustice during their medal ceremony. Nothing had changed in 2019, when the U.S.O.P.C reprimanded hammer thrower Gwen Berry and fencer Race Imboden for protesting on the medals stand at the Pan American Games. However, in December 2020 the U.S.O.P.C. announced it would no longer punish athletes who participate in peaceful protests, despite the IOC refusing to end Rule 50. The American federation’s decision comes at the recommendation of the athlete-led Team USA Council on Racial and Social Justice.
Jackson He achieves college football first
On Dec. 11, Arizona State football player Jackson He scored a touchdown, which Arizona State said was the first touchdown by a Chinese-born player in FBS history. The Sun Devils have celebrated his heritage by putting He’s name in Chinese on the back of his jersey.
Joe and Clara Tsai Foundation’s $50 Million Social Justice Fund Announces Inaugural Grant Recipients
The Social Justice Fund is driven by a $50 million commitment made by the Joe and Clara Tsai Foundation to work toward racial justice and economic mobility in Brooklyn over the coming 10 years. The Fund seeks to address systemic injustice and the root causes behind racial gaps in education, health and wealth by working on social justice initiatives and making community investments in Brooklyn’s BIPOC – especially Black – community.
Sarah Thomas becomes first woman to officiate a Super Bowl, and Maia Chaka becomes first Black female NFL official
Since becoming the first permanent official in NFL history in 2015, Thomas has worked full time in the league. In February 2021, she adds another milestone in a career full of glass ceilings being shattered: Thomas is an on-field official for Super Bowl LV . Thomas is also the first woman to officiate a major college football game (2006), the first woman to officiate a bowl game (2009) and the first to officiate in a Big Ten stadium (2011). Chaka also makes history in March 2021. Seven years after she joins the NFL’s officiating development program, Chaka becomes the league’s first Black female official. “I just want [young girls] to know if you have a passion for something and if have a drive for something, don’t let it hold you back just because you think that something may give you some type of limitation,” she said.
Coach Maral Javadifar and Coach Lori Locust of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers become first female coaches to win the Super Bowl
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers make history in 2019 when they become the first NFL team to have two full-time female coaches on staff. In 2021, the diverse coaching staff led to the team’s second Super Bowl win at Super Bowl LV. The defensive line, which Locust helps coach, is the standout group from the game as they hit and harrassed former Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes all evening.
Renee Montgomery becomes first former WNBA player to become a part owner and executive of a WNBA franchise
As a member of the Atlanta Dream, Montgomery opts out of the WNBA season in June 2020 to focus on issues of social justice, voter suppression and education, but later in the year starts envisioning a future as a co-owner in the league. That moment comes in early 2021 with her own team, when Kelly Loeffler sells the Dream to an ownership group that includes Montgomery. Dream players and stars from across the WNBA wanted Loeffler removed after she wrote a letter criticizing the league and the Black Lives Matter movement, and Montgomery would write an ensuing letter to Loeffler that would go unanswered. Ultimately, Loeffler decides to sell the team and now Montgomery is part owner, the first former WNBA player to earn that title.
Athletes rally to stop Asian hate after Atlanta shootings
On March 16, a white gunman commits a series of mass shootings at three Atlanta-area spas and massage parlors, killing eight people, six of whom were Asian women. The shooting reflects a long history of racism and sexism toward Asians and specifically Asian women, as well as reflecting the rapid rise in violent hate crimes rooted in racism from the COVID-19 pandemic. The day following the shooting, there’s an outpouring of support from athletes and teams across the country. LeBron James, Chiney Ogwumike, the Portland Trailblazers, Jeremy Lin, Steve Kerr, Trae Young were among the many within the NBA to speak out against the shooting and rise in racism. Atlanta Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo, a South Korean American, writes on his social media: “As an Asian American, I have heard the jokes and name calling. I often dealt with it by ignoring what was said and minding my own business. I don’t have all the answers, but I realize now more than ever that this is an issue that needs to be addressed and that ignoring it won’t help us do that. I know this one post won’t solve the problem, but I hope to help raise awareness on hate crimes against all. #stophate”
Pitcher Yu Darvish, victim of racist gesture in World Series, speaks out against discrimination
In the spring of 2021, in an article Darvish says of rising anti-Asian racism, “In my opinion, underneath the skin we’re all the same. It doesn’t sit well with me. … [M]any people are suffering from (discrimination).” Darvish joined MLB in 2012 and has pitched in the league ever since. However, Darvish pointed out in an earlier conversation that successful Yankees pitcher and two-time All Star Masahiro Tanaka left MLB to return to play in Japan in part because of rising racism he and his family experienced. Darvish, the son of a Japanese mother and Iranian father, was the victim of a racist gesture during the 2017 World Series. As a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, a player on the Houston Astros made an offensive and racist gesture toward Darvish.
Shohei Ohtani accomplishes rare MLB feat last seen 100 years ago
When Ohtani, the Los Angeles Angels’ star pitcher and power hitter, takes the mound on April 27, he does so accomplishing something last done in 1921. Ohtani leads MLB in home runs entering the day, and no player has entered a game as the starting pitcher while leading the league in home runs since Babe Ruth. Two years earlier, the flame-throwing pitcher was the first Japanese-born player to hit for the cycle, and during his 2018 AL Rookie of the Year season, he becomes the first player since Ruth with 50 innings pitched and at least 15 home runs.
Hideki Matsuyama becomes first Japanese man to win golf major at event honoring Lee Elder, first Black golfer to play in Masters
At the start of the 85th edition of the prestigious Masters tournament, Augusta National Golf Club celebrates Lee Elder as an honorary starter. Elder, who dealt with a spate of racism throughout his career, in 1975 became the first Black golfer to play in the tournament, which began in 1934 but did not allow Black golfers until Elder. (Augusta National did not admit a Black member until 1990 and did not admit women members until 2012.) At the end of the tournament, the Japanese-born Matsuyama finds himself in position to win the Masters. Matsuyama ends the tournament atop the leaderboard, becoming the first Japanese man to win the Masters and the second Asian American to win a golf major (Y.E. Yang in 2009).
Juneteenth recognized as federal holiday
Following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, leagues, teams and athletes across professional sports widley recognize and celebrate Juneteenth — the commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States. Leagues such as the NBA and NFL and teams such as the NHL’s San Jose Sharks and MLS’ Real Salt Lake leverage their platforms to engage in conversations on racism and social justice and provide resources to fans on how they can further their education around issues of race and support the Black community. Momentum builds and one year later, in June 2021, President Joe Biden signs a bill to recognize Juneteenth as a federal holiday.
Athletes from around the world leverage their platforms to protest racism and injustice during the Tokyo Olympics. American shot-putter Raven Saunders and fencer Race Imboden both flash an “X” on the medal stand to represent the “intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet.” Hammer thrower Gwen Berry raised her first to protest racial injustice before her event, while members of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team kneeled before the start of their opening match for the same cause. So too did women’s soccer players from Great Britain, Chile, New Zealand and Japan. Costa Rican gymnast Luciana Alvarado took a knee and put her first in the air after finishing her floor routine. The International Olympic Committee’s longstanding Rule 50 bars athletes from expressing any form of political or social protest before, during or after competition. But leading up to the Tokyo Olympics, the IOC says it will allow athletes to participate in social activism while on the field of play before their events begin, though still preventing athletes from protesting during competition or while on the medal podium. The following day, the World Players Association union announces it will cover legal fees for any athletes who face punishment for such public demonstrations. On the day of opening ceremony in Tokyo, more than 150 athletes, academics and social justice advocates, including RISE, sign an open letter demanding changes to Rule 50 and urging the IOC to “refrain from imposing sanctions on athletes protesting and demonstrating.” The USOPC had decided in December 2020 not to punish its athletes for on-field demonstrations.
Saunders wins Silver Medal, protests oppression and racism on Olympic podium
American shot putter Raven Saunders wins a Silver Medal at the Tokyo Olympics and crosses her arms into an X shape on the medal stand to represent “the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet.” The Black LGBTQ athlete, then 25, has spoken openly about her struggles with mental health, and says she aims to give light to “people all around the world who are fighting and don’t have the platform to speak up for themselves.” Saunders demonstrates on the podium despite the International Olympic Committee (IOC) rule prohibiting athletes from making such symbolic gestures on the medal podium. Prior to the start of the Tokyo Games, the IOC relaxes its Rule 50, which had banned all such demonstrations throughout the Olympics, allowing athletes to express their views on the field of play before the start of competition but still outlaws demonstrations during medal ceremonies. The IOC chooses not to discipline Saunders for her “X” gesture after her mother passes away days after the event.
NBA investment in HBCUs
The NBA and NBA Foundation announce the creation of the NBA HBCU Fellowship Program, an initiative designed to create greater opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students from Historically Black College and Universities (HCBU). The paid fellowship program with the NBA, WNBA and teams provides career development around the business and operations of the game. In February at the 2022 NBA All-Star Game in Cleveland, there will also be the first-ever NBA HBCU Classic in Cleveland between the Howard University and Morgan State University men’s basketball teams. Additionally, than $1 million will be contributed in support to the HBCU community through the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), UNCF (United Negro College Fund) and academic institutions, and HBCUs will be showcased during All-Star Weekend through unique content, storytelling and special performances.
Women in the NFL Break Barriers
In December 2021, Washington’s Jennifer King, the team’s assistant running backs coach, becomes the first Black woman to serve as a lead position coach in an NFL game. King, who starts as a coaching intern under coach Ron Rivera, makes history in Week 15 against the Philadelphia Eagles due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the team. In February 2021, Maral Javadifar and Lori Locust become the first female coaches to win the Super Bowl when they help lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to victory in Super Bowl LV. In that same game, Sarah Thomas, the league’s first female official, becomes the first woman to officiate a Super Bowl. In March 2021, Maia Chaka becomes the league’s first Black female official seven years after she joins the NFL’s officiating development program. “I just want [young girls] to know if you have a passion for something and if have a drive for something, don’t let it hold you back just because you think that something may give you some type of limitation,” she said.