Athletes and Politics

JOCKlife SportsContributor ISeptember 26, 2008

In 1968, John Carlos and Tommy Smith took a stand.  After medaling in the ’68 Olympics they climbed up on the podium quietly slipped a single black glove on their hand and with their medals draped around their necks, lifted their gloved fist above their heads as a salute to the millions of African-Americans at home who had yet to obtain their Civil Rights.

During those same Olympics, the future Heavy Weight Champion, George Foreman took a stand of his own.  After winning the Gold medal in boxing, Foreman took a small American flag and paraded around the ring waving it gleefully, the antithesis of John Carlos and Tommy Smith.

One year earlier, another boxer made a huge sacrifice to take a stand against something he did not believe in.  Muhammad Ali refused to take the step forward symbolizing the induction into the United States Army.  Ali believed that the Vietnam War was unjust and that Blacks in America were being oppressed by the same government he was being asked to defend.  No doubt Ali paid a heavy price for displaying such courage out of the ring.  He was stripped of his title, denied the opportunity to make a living in his chosen profession (boxing) and generally vilified by the power structure.  Ali never wavered.  Today, he is known simply as the greatest!

Jim Brown for years has stood up and took stands for the benefit of his community.  Whether it was mediating disputes between inner city gangs, supporting a fellow athlete who was in distress (Ali) or offering himself as a mentor to young Cleveland Browns who may have lost their way.

In Aurora, Colorado, an 11 year old boy was suspended from school for wearing a T Shirt that said Obama is a terrorist’s best friend. 

These individuals all stood up for different things, but the point is they stood up for something.  Our question is where have all the Heroes gone?  Today, athletes make more money, enjoy more freedoms, and have greater visibility than at any other time in history.  Despite the fact that they have this unprecedented platform, the majority of our athletes have been invisible and silent on the biggest decision of their lifetimes.....who will lead this county the next four years?

It is generally undisputed that our country is in the mist of the greatest financial crisis since the great depression.  We are also at war and our country is deeply divided.  Shouldn’t our heroes stand up at times like this?  Shouldn’t our athletes be encouraging their fans to get out and vote?  Shouldn’t they be lending their name to the candidate of their choice (local, national, whatever)?  Yes, it’s cool to give money but it’s your voice and your presence that can make a real difference.  There have been a few that have stood up—Jerome Bettis campaigned with Barack Obama, Charles Barkley attended the Democratic Convention, Baron Davis, Curt Schilling, Chuck Liddell and Chauncey Billups are a few athletes, but for the most part Hollywood has been more involved than athletes.

We know that taking stands can sometime have consequences Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf lost his career because he turned his back on the flag during the National Anthem; Craig Hodges lost his career because he wore a dashiki to the White House in 1992 and spoke out on behalf of Blacks.  Josh Howard is currently on the hot seat for expressing his views.  John Carlos and Tommy Smith found it difficult to find work after their Olympic protest. 

Getting involved in the political process is not likely to have such dire consequences.  The late, great, Jackie Robinson said, “A life is not important except in the positive impact it has on the lives of others.”  We are not suggesting who or how you get involved, just stand up and get involved!