Author: Ronan Gaine

With Donald Trump and the media nowadays, it seems as though civil protest only started in sport with Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem in 2016. In reality, civil protests have been a part of sport for over 100 years.  This article examines 10 incidents of civil protest across the world of sport.

1906 Olympics- Peter O’Connor flag protest

Athletes have often employed ceremonial moments to take a stand. At the 1906 Olympics, Irish long jumper Peter O’Connor protested after his second-place finish was honoured by the raising of the British flag. Wishing to only represent Ireland and not the whole of Britain, O’Connor scaled the flagpole and waved the Irish flag himself while fellow countryman Con Leahy guarded him at the foot of the pole.

1935- Nazi salute at Germany vs England


On December 4th 1935, the German football team gave the Nazi salute at White Hart Lane ahead of a friendly against England. This was the German response to protest from the England fans before the game.


1967-Group of top African-American athletes gather to support Muhammad Ali


African-American athletes have a long history of speaking up in defence of civil rights. In 1967 top athletes got together to support Muhammad Ali in rejecting the draft during the Vietnam war. Including Bill Russell, Jim Brown and legendary NBA centre Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.



1968 Olympics- Tommie Smith & John Carlos black power solute 


At the Mexico Olympics in 1968, Tommie Smith and John Carlos of the USA launched one of the most famous sporting protests by performing a black power salute on the podium. Australian silver medalist Peter Norman(left) also stood in protest, wearing a human rights badge. This greatly affected his career in his home nation.



1969- Curt Flood challenges Major League Baseball


In 1969, Curt Flood of the St. Louis Cardinals, challenged a clause in professional baseball players contracts that said players were teams’ property. Calling himself “a well-paid slave”. This triggered a white backlash, the case went to the Supreme Court and it lost 5-3. Six years later an arbitrator went against the ruling and thus free agency was born. The other major sports in America would follow suit, the NFL in 1992 and the NBA in 1996. The importance of his protest to baseball and American sport, in general, is immeasurable.



1980 Olympics-The infamous boycott

After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on Christmas day 1979, President Carter made the decision that the USA would boycott the 1980 Olympics as a protest against them, 61 other countries followed suit. This would also lead to a number of countries boycotting the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.



2004-7th inning stretch war protest


Following 9/11, Major League Baseball grounds across the league started to play God Bless America during the seventh inning stretch of every game. Charles Delgado, then of the Toronto Blue Jays, didn’t believe in the Iraq War which followed in 2004 and began to sit out the God Bless America anthem every game. He was the first major professional athlete to protest the war.




2012-Solidarity protest for slain teenager Trayvon Martin


In 2012, Miami Heat players, led by Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, posed in hoodies in solidarity with slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.




2014- “I can’t breathe” protest


LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Jarret Jack and Kevin Garnett wore “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts in reference to last words of Eric Garner, an unarmed Black man who died after a police officer placed him in a chokehold.




2016- Colin Kaepernick causes a storm by refusing to stand for the national anthem


In 2016, Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers created a storm by refusing to stand for the national anthem, he was then joined by other athletes including those at high-school and college levels. A media circus followed, with some supporting Kaepernick but many coming out against the quarterback. Kaepernick began taking the knee to protest what he viewed as racial injustice in the United States of America. His protest hasn’t helped him on the field with no team signing him since he became a free agent following the 2016 season. However, he has made an impact off the field even being named GQ magazines ‘Citizen of the Year’ in 2017 for his efforts.





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