Black athletes have never “stuck to sports,” so why should they start now?

The idea of Black athletes only “sticking to sports” is impossible. When they leave the court, track, or field, they are still Black in America and that playing field is anything but equal. Let’s look at the history of athletes using their voices for change.

  /  08.05.2020


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.

Although it may be easy to fall into the narrative that professional sports are here to entertain us, it would behoove you to acknowledge and appreciate the ability of world-class athletes to be both ornamental and functional. The Black athlete is often ignored for their mental capabilities, but exploited for their physical attributes. Long before the reporter that shall remain nameless decided to tell LeBron James to “shut up and dribble,” athletes at the top of their game have unabashedly spoken up against systemic racism and the oppression that the United States has been built upon. Athlete protests in the U.S. can be dated back to as early as the 1800s, and have only gotten stronger and more pronounced as time has gone on.

One of the more widely known instances of athletes’ activism can be seen in Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Clay. Clay was just 13 years old when 14-year-old Emmett Till was brutally murdered for allegedly offending a white female cashier in Mississippi. The lynching had a lasting effect on the teenager who went on to become one of the greatest boxers of all time. By the time the Olympic champion converted to Islam, he abandoned the figment that hard work and compliance would afford African Americans even footing. In 1966, Ali was classified as immediately eligible to serve in the Vietnam War and he was publicly vocal about his stance as a conscientious objector. When he refused to be inducted into the U.S. Armed Forces, Ali’s boxing career was over. He was stripped of his title and his boxing licenses were suspended. Ironically, football legend Jim Brown — who has denounced Colin Kaepernick’s method of protest — led a group of African American athletes in a “Muhammad Ali Summit” where the group decided to support the boxer’s stance against the Vietnam War.

While Ali was making his point in the boxing world, Tommie Smith and John Carlos were making their case on the track in the 1968 Summer Olympic Games. You undoubtedly have seen the image. Smith and Carlos, the Olympic gold and silver medalists in the 200-meter dash, stood on the podium raising their black-gloved fists as the national anthem played during the medal ceremony. The move was symbolic, yet isolating. The two athletes were suspended from the U.S. track and field team, and banned from the Olympic Village. The silent but symbolic protest was the peak of efforts headlined by Smith and Carlos leading up to the Games. Seeing the Civil Rights movement as passive, the duo helped organize the Olympic Project for Human Rights. They saw the Games as the perfect opportunity to campaign for better treatment of Black athletes and people around the world. The stance killed their track careers, and the two went on to have short football careers in the NFL and CFL. Nevertheless, both Smith and Carlos have publicly supported Kaepernick and his protest during the national anthem.

Before Kaepernick kneeled on the sideline of the San Francisco 49ers, in 1973 specifically, eight members of Brown University’s all-Black cheerleading squad took a stand — by not standing during the national anthem. The women were also backed by Brown President Donald Hornig. Although the Providence City Council denounced the university, Hornig stated that the women have a right to freedom of expression. His support was big considering the negative connotations that have dogged strong-minded Black women.

Women, particularly Black women, are often on the frontlines of many battles and bear the risk of being too aggressive or difficult while standing up for themselves. Venus and Serena Williams have often found themselves the subjects of both racist and sexist attacks in the tennis world due to their confident, powerful and unapologetically Black demeanors. Most notably, the sisters endured racial insults at the Indian Wells tournament in 2001 when an injury forced Venus to drop out of a match against her sister. As a result, the duo boycotted the tournament for 14 years; Serena returned in 2015. In their fight against the racist tennis culture, the sisters sacrificed millions and professional rankings by skipping the competition, proving that social justice is of much more importance.

Ever the fiery competitor, Serena also found herself speaking out against sexism in tennis when she was fined $17,000 and had a game taken away during the US Open final in 2018 after she called the umpire a “thief.” The athlete opined that a male would not have faced such punishment and legend Billie Jean King agreed. King tweeted that “when a woman is emotional, she’s ‘hysterical’ and she’s penalized for it. When a man does the same, he’s ‘outspoken’ & there are no repercussions. Thank you Serena Williams, for calling out this double standard. More voices are needed to do the same.”

Serena has also used her voice to support Kaepernick and Eric Reid. “I think every athlete, every human, and definitely every African American should be completely grateful and honored how Colin and Eric are doing so much more for the greater good, so to say,” Serena said following her win at the 2018 US Open, which both men attended.

Years later, those sentiments are being echoed by other NFL players. Not too long after the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, Ahmaud Arbery and countless of other recent Black people who unnecessarily lost their lives due to excessive force; a group of players filmed a video aimed at the league. The video called for the NFL to state their condemnation of racism and the systemic oppression of Black people, and admit their wrongdoing in silencing the players that want to peacefully protest. The video garnered a response video from Commissioner Roger Goodell, who apologized but still failed to address Kaepernick. The league also pledged $250 million over the course of 10 years to combat systemic racism. In late July, the NFL informed the public of plans to amplify its social justice initiatives by including helmet decals bearing the names of those killed by police brutality.

Kaepernick, hereafter referred to as Kaep, has become the modern day martyr after he sacrificed his NFL career to combat systemic oppression. After choosing to protest police brutality, he lost what was once a promising career. After failing to get so much as a workout from any of the NFL’s 32 teams, Kaep sued the league for collusion and was awarded an undisclosed settlement. Not one to sit on his hands waiting for a call, he has been busy trying to become the change he wants to see. The star’s “Know Your Rights” camp seeks to “advance the liberation of Black and Brown people through education, self-empowerment mass-mobilization and the creation of new systems that elevate the next generation of change leaders.” In 2018, Kaepernick donated $1 million to 37 different social justice organizations.

“Shut up and dribble.” – Laura Ingraham

When LeBron James criticized Donald Trump during an interview with Cari Champion in 2018, Fox News journalist Laura Ingraham infamously advised the NBA star to “shut up and dribble.” “The best thing she did was help me create more awareness,” responded the athlete. In addition to his on-court dominance, James has been vocal and active in the fight for social justice. King James never misses an opportunity to make his opinion known and to put action behind his words. Most recently, the three-time NBA champion helped to form “More Than a Vote,” an initiative to fight voter suppression.

The NBA, known for supporting its players’ freedom of speech, offered players the option of wearing social justice messages on their jerseys during the NBA restart. The courts also sport “Black Lives Matter” along the sideline. Michael Jordan, one of the league’s icons, has been notorious for his silence on racial, political, and social justice matters, as amplified in “The Last Dance” documentary. In light of the current racial climate, Jordan has even pledged $10 million a year for the next 10 years toward social justice organizations.

On the women’s side of the court, stars Maya Moore and Renee Montgomery traded their WNBA jerseys to put the Black community on their backs instead.

Both stars were in the middle of successful WNBA careers when they made the decision to take a season off to focus on social justice. Moore, a two-time Olympic champion, took a break to work on securing the release of Jonathan Irons. Irons was sentenced to 50 years in prison when he was just 16 years old. Irons was released on July 1, 2020.

Like Moore, Montgomery spent time in Minnesota as a member of the Lynx. During her time there, she came to know the Minneapolis community and was particularly affected by the killing of George Floyd. After consulting with family, Montgomery — who’s also involved with James in “More Than a Vote” — decided to devote her time to the fight for social justice, too.

“The Black athlete has to endure, overcome even more, and constantly go beyond, in order not to give up.”- John White, creator The Black Athlete

In addition to being a Black athlete, in May 2013, former NBA player Jason Collin revealed that he is in another minority group as a member of the LGBTQ community. He became the first active male athlete from one of the four professional sports associations to publicly come out as gay. In a first person story published by Sports Illustrated, Collins also revealed that he switched his jersey number to “98” in honor of Matthew Shepard. Shepard was brutally killed in an anti-gay hate crime in 1998. The 13-year NBA veteran received widespread praise for his bravery in an industry where homophobia was closeted, yet still rampant.

Seven years later, Collins is still the only openly gay NBA player/former player. Though tolerance has increased from a societal standpoint, former NBA champion Dwyane Wade has found himself on the frontlines of another cause — one that has typically been viewed as taboo in the Black community. During an appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” in February, Wade opened up about his 12-year-old daughter Zaya coming out as transgender. He and the rest of his family remain strong in their support of her no matter the backlash. “We are proud parents of a child in the LGBTQ+ community and we’re proud allies, as well,” Wade told Ellen.

Driving to Diversity

When Bubba Wallace was named the full-time driver of the No. 43 car for Richard Petty Motorsports in 2017, he became the first Black driver to have a full-time Cup ride since Wendell Scott in 1971. His second place finish in the 2018 Daytona 500 was the highest finish ever by a full-time rookie driver. Wallace was hired at the height of the anthem protests and chose not to address the issue at the time. However, following Floyd’s death, he showed his support of the Black Lives Matter movement by wearing an “I Can’t Breathe” shirt and driving a Black Lives Matter car at Martinsville Speedway. Earlier that day, NASCAR had announced the banning of the Confederate flag. Later that month, a noose was found hanging in Wallace’s garage stall at Talladega Superspeedway. Although it was concluded that the noose was placed prior to race weekend, which many say is still up for debate, the show of support from other NASCAR drivers and administration was strong.

NASCAR’s move to banish the Confederate flag, a constant reminder of slavery and hatred, is huge in a sport that has tried doggedly to outrun its racist history. The move is the most recent in a string of efforts to increase diversity in the sport. The Drive for Diversity development program seeks to break down the systemic barriers that have kept minorities out of NASCAR. Additionally, the company named Brandon Thompson, a Black man, the new vice president of diversity and inclusion. As for the impact the banning of the flag will have on fans, both Wallace and NASCAR president Steve Phelps agree that the move will open the door for many more fans — namely those who have previously been repelled by the racist connotation of it.

The world we live in today, while not great, has been shaped by those unafraid to speak out and stand for something — even if it means they could lose everything. Regardless of the fight, be it against racism, sexism, or homophobia; Black athletes have never been able to “stick to sports.” The idea, in and of itself, is impossible. When they leave the court, track, or field, they are still Black in America and that playing field is anything but equal.




View More



View More


Walmart has everything you need for the tech enthusiast on your shopping list

Check out our gift guide that highlights some of our favorite Walmart finds in time for Black Friday.

  /  11.10.2023

5 things you need to know about the 2023 Billboard Music Awards

“REVOLT Black News” correspondent Kennedy Rue counts down the top five moments from the 2023 Billboard Music Awards, including surprising wins, historic firsts, and dope performances. Sponsored by Amazon.

  /  11.20.2023

Walmart's HBCU Black and Unlimited Tour kicks off at Central State University

On Oct. 10, Walmart unveiled a brand new, state of the art creative studio on the campus of Central State University.

  /  11.14.2023

The Walmart HBCU Black & Unlimited Tour visited Mississippi Valley State University

The Walmart HBCU Black & Unlimited Tour made its final stop at Mississippi Valley State University (MVSU) and left a lasting impact on students and alumni alike.

  /  11.22.2023

Walmart has the home essentials for everyone on your holiday shopping list

Below, our gift guide highlights some of our favorite Walmart finds for anyone in need of a home refresh.

  /  11.24.2023

Walmart continues HBCU Black & Unlimited Tour during lively Virginia State University stop

After unveiling their state of the art creative studio on the campus of Central State University, Walmart brought the HBCU Black & Unlimited Tour to Virginia State University (VSU) on Oct. 13.

  /  11.14.2023

Walmart HBCU Black & Unlimited Tour brings attention and wisdom to North Carolina Central University

On Oct. 17, Walmart brought the third stop of the HBCU Black & Unlimited Tour to North Carolina Central University (NCCU).

  /  11.15.2023

Groovey Lew on hip hop style, Johnell Young's industry secrets, BGS salon's wig mastery and more | 'Black Girl Stuff'

Fashion King Groovey Lew on masterminding hip-hop’s most iconic looks. Actor Johnell Young reveals the secret to breaking into the entertainment industry. Celebrity hairstylist Dontay Savoy and got2B ambassador Tokyo Stylez are in the BGS Salon with the perfect wig install. Plus, comedian Lauren Knight performs.

  /  11.15.2023

Pheelz talks expressing himself through music & his biggest inspirations | 'On In 5'

On this all-new episode of “On In 5,” multitalented Nigerian artist Pheelz opens up about waiting for his opportunity to fully express himself through music, his inspirations and emotions, and the musical icons he grew up admiring. Watch!

  /  07.11.2023

Kareem Cook talks growing up in The Bronx, studying at Duke & networking | 'The Blackprint with Detavio Samuels'

On this all-new episode of “The Blackprint with Detavio Samuels,” the host and REVOLT CEO sits down with Kareem Cook. Throughout the introspective episode, Cook talks growing up in The Bronx, studying at Duke and being nervous to be in the South at the time, network vs. education, taking advantage of your opportunities, and connecting with Debbie Allen. Watch!

  /  07.10.2023

Tiffany Haddish on therapy, wild fan interactions & the upcoming 'Haunted Mansion' movie | 'The Jason Lee Show'

On this all-new episode of “The Jason Lee Show,” the one and only Tiffany Haddish sits for a must-watch conversation about wild interactions with fans, her new movie ‘Haunted Mansion,’ bringing her therapist on dates, and being present. Watch the hilarious interview here.

  /  07.12.2023

BNXN talks leaving IT for music, linking with Wizkid, going viral & new album | 'On In 5'

For this all-new episode of “On In 5,” singer-songwriter BNXN discusses his journey from IT to music, finding his voice and originality, linking up with Wizkid for their hits “Mood” and “Many Ways,” and what fans can expect from him this year — including a new album. Watch the full episode here!

  /  08.08.2023

From city lots to lush gardens: The power of urban farming with Karen Washington

This is the inspiring story of Karen Washington, a pioneering urban farmer who has been revolutionizing urban spaces by transforming them into vibrant community gardens and educational hubs. Sponsored by State Farm.

  /  11.17.2023

Investing in stocks in a recession | 'Maconomics'

Host Ross Mac provides useful advice for preparing your personal finances in the event of a recession. He emphasizes the importance of budgeting properly, building an emergency fund, and maintaining discipline when investing.

  /  11.21.2023

Walmart's HBCU Black and Unlimited Tour kicked off at Central State University

In October, Walmart unveiled a brand new, state of the art creative studio on the campus of Central State University. The HBCU located in Wilberforce, OH was the first stop on Walmart’s Black and Unlimited HBCU Tour.

  /  11.28.2023

Madam DA Fani Willis proclaims, “A lie has been told on African American men”

“Every time I’m in trouble, it’s been Black men that have come to my aid,” Madam DA Fani Willis said at REVOLT WORLD while speaking on the stereotype that they are not dependable or worth dating.

  /  10.11.2023

Lauren London sparks conversation on how Black parents unintentionally give kids negative outlook on money

At the live taping of “Assets Over Liabilities” at REVOLT WORLD, Lauren London opened up about how witnessing the financial decisions adults made during her childhood fueled her outlook on money. 

  /  10.26.2023

Black media leaders stress the space's importance because we're always antagonists in mainstream's storytelling

“I definitely feel those ‘heavier is the crown’ moments. But I also believe that Black entrepreneurs are uniquely positioned to be successful in the future,” Detavio Samuels said at AfroTech.

  /  11.03.2023

Dig In & Drink Up | 'Bet on Black'

In this new episode of ‘Bet on Black,’ food and beverage take center stage as aspiring Black entrepreneurs from It’s Seasoned, Black Farmer Box, and Moors Brewing Co. present their business ideas to judges with mentorship from Melissa Butler. Watch here!

  /  11.15.2023

Machel Montano opens up about life as a child star, new music, and exciting business moves

In an exclusive interview with REVOLT, Machel Montano dove into his musical journey, childhood stardom, and an exciting new chapter in business.

  /  11.03.2023
View More
Revolt - New Episodes