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The Rare Political Athletes: A Strong Mix of Words and/or Actions, Part Two 
By Clayton Ruley
Research By: Courtney Williams
 

The Athlete is in a difficult position in this world because their fame is most often based on their performances, and if that's dead, usually so too is their power to make socio-political changes. This is typically difficult when you are a minority and have little to no resemblance to the people who write the checks. But there have been influential athletes who have used their power in the media and on the field to make people aware of the injustices of life, along with the beauties of it! These are just a few that I've thought of. This is part two of a series.

John Carlos & Tommie Smith – These two men showed their pride for their respective races when they put black gloves on their hands and raised a fist for the struggles that black athletes and people have experienced in America. Smith raised his right hand and Carlos raised his left.   Need I say more?   The media portrayed these actions in a negative manner.   While the media's efforts could have been used to constructively address the status quo in the U.S., their negative coverage of the well-known Olympic ceremony in 1968 resulted in a committee asking Carlos and Smith to leave the territory that was hosting the event.   

 

Muhammad Ali – This man stood behind his moral and religious convictions and refused to enter the military which prompted boxing to take his heavyweight crown and bar him from boxing. He told people that he didn't believe in the war and refused to fight other poor people.   He later won his belts back and is of course now considered "the greatest of all-time!"

 

 Jackie Robinson – Remember that baseball is "America's game" and certainly that of the heartland, so when a young brash man from Los Angeles decided to endure the racial threats and slurs to take his historic place on the field, he changed the game forever.   Throughout Robinson's career, he was able to persevere and achieve at high levels despite the overt racism in American sports and society.   Born in 1919 to sharecroppers Millie and Jerry Robinson, his mother taught him at a young age to combat racism by using his talents.   Jackie's means of showcasing his talents became sports.   While attending UCLA, Robinson excelled in basketball, baseball, track & field and football, subsequently earning varsity letters in all four sports.   This accomplishment had been the first to be obtained by any athlete at the university.  

             

After college, Robinson played semi-professional football in Hawaii.   Following that he was drafted to WW II.   While serving he became an officer at Fort Riley in Kansas.   This experience sharpened his sense of racial injustice, so he spoke assertively about the unjust conditions that African Americans were subjected to.   Robinson was court-martialed for refusing to sit in the rear of an army vehicle.   He was later reinstated but soon discharged in 1944.

 

Sure, it was just one team at first, but Jackie's performance made the world recognize that black peoples and especially, Negro League players could perform exceptionally well (a fact already well-known by national leagues' players and teams as most got a taste during barnstorming games in the off-season). Jackie was charged for being conservative in his older years, but he made his statement and it has and will continue to resonate forever. A shoutout must be given to Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey and shortstop Pee Wee Reese. Rickey was the first GM with the guts to sign a Negro player to a major league ball club and Reese, the Georgia born shortstop, defended Robinson at games like they were the same color, imagine that thought!

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