By: Jasper Scelsi, Columnist
Sports and social justice are tied in ways few people notice. Sports are a great place to give attention to a movement due to how popular they are. It gets people talking. I would be hard-pressed to find an American who didn’t know about Colin Kaepernick and the “take a knee” protest. But athletes who make political statements in sports are frowned upon, and sometimes they are even banned from participating in sports again. The International Olympic Committee is banning activism this year, but that will not make the games apolitical.
Activism in sports has been around longer than you may think. In 1968, two Olympians raised a fist for black power during the awards ceremony. And they were subsequently expelled from the Olympic village and suspended from the US team. They were heavily criticized in the meeting, but they made one of the most iconic Olympic moments in modern history.
Later, both men were inducted into the US Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame. Even whole countries have used the Olympics as a place for activism. A major way of doing this is boycotting, which was done during the Olympic games in the time of the Cold War.
Recently, during the Pan American Games, fencer Race Imboden took a knee during the “The Star-Spangled Banner.” He cited racism, gun control, mistreatment of immigrants and President Trump as his primary grievances. Hammer thrower Gwen Berry raised a fist Saturday near the end of the anthem for similar reasons. Kaepernick decided to sit and later take a knee during the National Anthem in 2016.
This was never to protest the military, but instead racial injustice – police brutality, mass incarceration, and systemic racism. Brazilian soccer players are starting a movement against homophobia. In a Brazilian illegal lottery, the number 24 is related to the deer, which is related to gay men. This makes players with the #24 soccer jersey subject to teasing and abuse, so it is avoided.
But now, there is a hashtag campaign around #PedeA24 (“ask for 24”), posted with pictures of the number on jerseys. This was largely started in the wake of Kobe Bryant’s death, as he wore the #24 jersey.
Social justice and sports go hand-in-hand, and have for a long time. The Olympics may attempt to make these games apolitical by banning political messaging or gestures of a political nature like kneeling or hand gestures are not permitted during the Olympic Games at all Olympic venues.
However, athletes can still express their opinions during press conferences, interviews, and team meetings as well as on digital or traditional media, or other platforms. Activists cannot and will not be silenced.