For over 50 years Black professional athletes have used their platforms to fight for equality, often at the cost of their careers, but are they making a difference?
“I’ve been talking about this s— for fifty years and ain’t nothing changed since Mexico City in 1968. Nothing!” John Carlos told a Sports Illustrated writer in a 2018 telephone interview.
On Oct, 16, 1968, during the start of the The Star-Spangled Banner, John Carlos stood on the Olympic podium before the world with a bronze medal around his neck on top of black beads, black glove on his left fist held straight up above his short afro, and his sneakers off, showing black socks. Next to him, 200-meter gold medal winner Tommy Smith had his right black glove fist raised to the sky, with no sneakers, black socks and an added black scarf.
“They didn’t make a difference, they made a political statement others like Colin Kaepernick followed almost 50 years later,” SQ News Associate Editor Kevin Sawyer, whose a huge Black history buff, said.
Smith and Carlos knew it would be the end of their track careers before they made the move. U.S. Olympic officials sent Jesse Owens to speak to the athletes about the prospect of protest in the air. Owens warned them that, “If you guys do, you’ll never get a job,” according to Dr. Harry Edwards as reported by Sports Illustrated.
Edwards organized the 1968 Olympic Project for Human Rights protest.
About 48 years later, in an era where a hashtag was created to remind the world that Black life is also sacred, Colin Kaepernick followed the footsteps of Smith and Carlos. Kaepernick, along with safety Eric Reid, took a knee during the singing of the National Anthem at National Football League (NFL) games. They took a knee, knowing from history it could destroy their careers which conveyed the ultimate message – that Black lives are more important than makihttps://sanquentinnew.wpengine.com/retired-nfl-player-devon-still-visits-sq/ng millions of dollars.
Kaepernick was not signed to another NFL team since he opted out his contract with the San Francisco 49ers.
Even still, the question remains, did the statements made by the professional athletes make a difference?
“His (Kaepernick’s) movement was viewed by the media as being a stance taken exclusively as a black issue, in an attempt to marginalized his stance against social injustice, and to appear exclusionary,” San Quentin resident John “Yahya” Johnson said. “It didn’t gain momentum in my opinion because of this. He should have worked harder to push back against the media’s marginalization of what his protest stood for. Social justice is a bigger issue than just Blacks. It’s a LGBTQ issue, a Latino issue, a rent control issue and a criminal justice issue. I do think doing what he did creates a debate to talk about all of society.”
Something has changed from 50 years ago – both Reid and Kaepernick found employment despite standing their ground against the NFL and President Donald Trump on the issue of taking a knee. The Carolina Panthers picked up Reid and Nike has given Kaepernick an endorsement deal worth millions.
Also, Kaepernick’s movement has gained some traction. Several superstar musicians have refused to perform at the 2019 Superbowl including Rhaina.
Plus, Kaepernick brought national attention to the unfair treatment of Black people in America.
Edward said in the Sports Illustrated article, “Struggles that are not victories do generate change.”
Maybe Edwards is right. Lately, for several reasons, the criminal justice system is making changes for the better.