Famous sporting protests


Suffragette Emily Davison

One of the earliest examples of a sporting protest was in 1913, when the Suffragette movement went mainstream thanks to the fatal protest of Emily Davison. On the day of The Derby horse race at Epsom, Davison entered the track and allowed herself to be hit by the King’s Horse. Her cause was to fight for the right of women to get the vote in Britain, which happened five years later.


Muhammad Ali refuses army enlistment

Muhammad Ali refused to enlist to fight for the US in the Vietnam War in 1967. Already a boxing superstar, Ali based his decision on his beliefs as a Muslim and his opposition to the war. Ali was arrested, later found guilty of draft evasion, stripped of his titles, and had his fighting license suspended. Ali was out of the ring for three years until his conviction was overturned in 1971.


Black Power salute

One of the most famous sporting protests was in 1968, when the Olympics in Mexico were rocked by Tommie Smith and John Carlos with their Black Power salutes following the final of the men's 200-meter sprint. Both athletes bowed their heads and raised black-gloved fists on the podium while the US national anthem played, a move that outraged millions of Americans.


Abdul-Rauf protests the national anthem

Two decades before Colin Kaepernick, NBA guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf too refused to stand for national anthem before games, stating that the US flag was a symbol of oppression. He also said that standing would contradict his Islamic beliefs. The NBA suspended him and fined him more than $31,000 per missed game. He returned just days later after a compromise was reached with the league.


Cathy Freeman carries both flags

At the 1994 Commonwealth Games, Cathy Freeman celebrated her victories in the 200-meter and 400-meter sprints by carrying both Australian and Aboriginal flags during her victory laps, to celebrate her indigenous heritage. She was rebuked by the organizers of the Games, but Freeman celebrated a gold medal at her home Olympics in Sydney in 2000 by carrying both flags again.


Boateng stands up to racist chanting

German-born Ghanian footballer Kevin-Prince Boateng took a stand against racist chanting by walking off the field in a friendly against Italian fourth-tier team Pro Patria. The game was called off after 26 minutes when a section of Pro Patria supporters targeted the then-AC Milan midfielder, who reacted to the abuse by picking up the ball and kicking it at the crowd in the stand behind him.


‘I can’t breathe’

The Black Lives Matter movement has been at the forefront of various protests and campaigns in recent years. One of the most prominent was in 2014 when LeBron James and fellow NBA players Kyrie Irving, Jarret Jack and Kevin Garnett wore “I can't breathe" shirts in reference to the last words of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who died after a police officer had placed him in a chokehold.


Ethiopian asylum protest

Olympic silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa made a name for himself at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro – but it wasn’t necessarily for his performance in the marathon. The marathon runner crossed the line in second place with his arms above his head in solidarity with Oromo activists who were staging asylum protests in Ethiopia.


Kaepernick takes a knee

The most recent sporting protests started in 2016 with then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's kneeling during the national anthem to protest against police brutality and racial inequality. This season, US President Donald Trump has sharply criticised Kaepernick and other NFL players who protest, leading to a growing backlash from players - and the #TakeAKnee campaign.

Last NFL season, Colin Kaepernick sparked what would become the #TakeAKnee protests by refusing to stand for the US national anthem. Here is a look at some previous political protests in sports.

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