Ali all over again: How top tier athletes return to political activism

RINGSIDE 21/01/2018

How top-tier athletes return to political activism: 

The history of boxing has many legendary fighters with impressive records that are remembered to this day but the greatest Muhammad Ali, one of the top 10 greatest sportsmen of all time will always outshine all of them.

His sports career is amazing, making him one of the boxers whose name sounds familiar even to those who don’t enjoy his sport. But he had a pretty active life outside the ring, too – and it cost him dearly.

Due to his activism in 1966, he was stripped of his titles, arrested, left without a boxing license and even stripped of his passport. He has spent his prime fighting for justice – he could only return to the ring in 1970.

Today, sports and politics seem to intertwine once again, especially since Donald Trump was elected President of the United States.

One of the first notable expressions of political views related to sports was singer BeyoncĂ©’s tribute to the “Black Lives Matter” movement during Super Bowl 50, seemingly breaking the unwritten rule of keeping the world of sports apolitical.

But things didn’t stop here. “Sports is really no longer an escape from the real world that it used to be. Sport is a mirror of our society,” CNN Sports Analyst Christine Brennan said. “I think because Trump is so controversial and because the things he’s saying and doing run counter to what many people believe … athletes are finding their voice in a way that is reminiscent of the 1960s.”

Today, an ever-growing group of top-tier athletes is expressing their political views – mostly as critics to some of the most controversial measures taken by the current administration.

The famous travel ban that kept refugees and immigrants from seven countries has drawn criticism from many famous sports personalities. And Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback at the San Francisco 49ers, refused to stand during the National Anthem, he has become one of the most controversial sports personalities of our time.

He was praised by some and booed by many but this didn’t stop him from continuing his protest about the way things stand today, and being joined by other athletes, including his teammate Eric Reid, Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall, Miami Dolphins players Arian Foster, Kenny Stills, Michael Thomas, Jelani Jenkins, Seattle Reign FC soccer star Megan Rapinoe, and many others.

Director Spike Lee compared the act of Kaepernick to that of Ali and Olympic runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos who bowed their heads and raised their fists during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico during the National Anthem, a gesture that led to them being suspended from the team despite having won gold and bronze medals.