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Athlete Muhammad Ali And Fight For Civil Rights

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The 1960’s were a transformational period that helped influence the society of today. In the 1960’s Politics were highly frowned upon in sports, as of the twenty-tens, this opinion continues to be the same. Whether you ask a professional athlete or an avid sports watcher you will get the same answer, sports and politics do not mix. Athletes such as Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos used their fame as athletes to spread awareness about civil rights and political matters causing all of them to lose their careers. What made these athletes choose to stand up and be heard despite the opinion that sports and politics should not mix.

Muhammad Ali was an incredible boxer and civil rights activist, from the 1960’s to 2016 Ali became an inspiration to many. Ali’s first life-changing moment was in 1964 “Ali changed his name in 1964 after joining the Nation of Islam.” ( After Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., changed his name to Muhammad Ali he risked many things such as his career and his image to speak out on many civil issues he cared about. Ali like many other people all over the world was very invested in his religious beliefs, due to this he refused to go to war “On April 28, 1967. Citing his religious beliefs, he refused to serve.” ( Ali was later sentenced to 5 years in prison for refusing to serve in the Vietnam war. After Ali fought to appeal his case he continued to voice his opinions on important issues such as speaking out against the Vietnam war.

Major basketball stars like LeBron James and Michael Jordan have attempted to avoid politics for many years because of their sports careers. Michael Jordan has been in the NBA for 15 seasons, through his time in the NBA Jordan kept quiet about many political and social issues. It wasn’t until 2014 the Jordan official spoke out “The Hall of Famer, spoke up when Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was forced out in 2014.” (Cindy Boren). Michael Jordan waited until after his basketball career was over to speak up on these issues, most likely to protect his long-lived career. LeBron James was very similar to Michael Jordan in not wanting to ruin his career by speaking about politics. James has spoken of wanting to be like Muhammad Ali “James has said that he has two goals in life. One is to be “a global icon like Muhammad Ali,” and the other is to be the richest athlete in the world.” The issue with this was Lebron’s motivator, James was more motivated by being rich and being a great athlete than fighting for social issues. Muhammad Ali works hard for many years to create a better world for so many people. James wasn’t as willing to give up money and sponsorship’s to achieve this goal of being a global icon.

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The very controversial ex NFL player Collin Kaepernick has also had his fair share of not wanting to give up sponsorship’s. Kaepernick recently left the NFL because of his protests. Kaepernick continuously refused to stand for the National anthem in protest to police brutality to black people. Kaepernick risked his career because he felt he shouldn’t stand for those who risked their lives if they were not protecting the citizens they’re fighting for. Unlike LeBron James and Michael Jordan, Kaepernick spoke up almost right after he started his career because he believed the cause was more important than his career. Kaepernick continues to take sponsorship’s such as Nike, this sponsorship has continued to boost his career despite his controversy. Whether the company had the same beliefs as Kaepernick or not it was a great way for him to stay in the spotlight and continue to have a platform to protest with.

In the 1968 Olympics, two athletes stood up for their civil rights beliefs with no worries about sponsorship’s and career-ending moves. Tommie Smith and John Carlos were kicked out of the Olympics because of their peaceful protest during the awards ceremony. Smith and Carlos were gold and bronze medalist who cared more about protesting for their civil rights than their big Olympic win. Carlos spoke 48 years later to say, “What I did was right 48 years ago, and 48 years later it has proven to be right.” (Erin Blakemore). Both Carlos and Smith to this day believe that they made the right decision protesting during the Olympics even though they risked their careers’.

Politics in sports from the 1960’s to now may not have changed in the eye of the fan’s, however, the athletes can’t say the same. In the 1960’s athletes took more risks because they knew they had the platform to reach millions of people with their actions. These athletes may have taken more risks because so much needed to change for minorities and the treatment of these people, or they just felt stronger about the topics. It’s easy to say much has changed from the 1960’s to now when it comes to what athletes will give up for their beliefs. The 1960’s may have been a better time to take these risks but that hasn’t stopped athletes now. The fear of being shut out is a large worry, however, some of these men and women feel that their civil rights and social opinions are more important than money. Civil rights protest will continue to happen and the people with the platforms to speak out will keep using them even if it means they lose a large part of their life like some of these athletes have.

Works Cited

  1. “Muhammad Ali.”, A&E Television Networks, 2009,
  2. Boren, Cindy. “Michael Jordan Isn’t Sitting out Anymore, Says Protesting Athletes ‘Shouldn’t Be Demonized’.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 26 Sept. 2017,
  3. Boulton, C. Zirin, D. Young, J. Earp, J. (Director). (2010). Not Just a Game [Video file]. Media Education Foundation. Retrieved November 13, 2018, from Kanopy.
  4. Blakemore, Erin. “How the Black Power Protest at the 1968 Olympics Killed Careers.”, A&E Television Networks, 2018,

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