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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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