Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

Athletes fighting racism: A brief history

From basketball to soccer, sports players have a long history of showing their distaste for racism and homophobia

Professional athletes aren’t usually known for their political or social activism, but when faced with racism, homophobia or other types of bigotry, many have found creative ways to express their antipathy, often on the field or court.

After Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was purportedly caught on tape expressing bigoted views about African-Americans over the weekend, his team took to the court to show its dismay.  On Sunday, before a game against the Golden State Warriors, the players dumped their shooting shirts at center court, and wore their warm-up uniforms inside-out, obscuring the Clippers logo.

It wasn’t the only protest against Sterling’s alleged comments. Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp, who was mentioned by Sterling as being too dark-skinned in one of the recordings, changed his walk-up music to Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” during Sunday’s baseball game. In addition to the subtle reference, Kemp told reporters he “feels sorry” that the Clippers have to play for Sterling.

Dodgers Outfielder Matt Kemp.
Harry How/Getty Images

Michael Jordan, basketball hall of famer and owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, also expressed sympathy for the players and said that he was “completely outraged” by Sterling’s comments. Magic Johnson, also an inductee into the Basketball Hall of Fame, voiced his dismay, saying Sterling “shouldn’t own a team anymore.” Meanwhile, Miami Heat forward Lebron James said, “there is no room for Donald Sterling in our league.”

The widespread responses to Sterling's alleged comments are only some of the most recent examples of a history of protests against bigotry in professional sports.

On Sunday, Barcelona soccer player Dani Alves responded to a racist taunt when a banana landed at his feet during Sunday's game against Villarreal by picking up the fruit, peeling and then eating it before proceeding to take a corner kick.

Soccer stars Sergio Aguero, of Argentina, and Marta, of Brazil, tweeted this photo in support of Alves.
via Twitter

"We have suffered this in Spain for some time," Alves said after the game. "You have to take it with a dose of humor. We aren't going to change things easily … If you don't give it importance, they don't achieve their objective."

Several other stars tweeted photos of themselves eating bananas in support.

In another apparent protest against racism, the NBA's Phoenix Suns announced in February that they would wear their "Los Suns" jersey for several games in a nod to their Hispanic fans.

Phoenix Suns forward Grant Hill wears a "Los Suns" jersey in 2010.
Ross D. Franklin/AP

While the team did not make any mention of immigration laws, the move was seen by some as a knock against Arizona’s harsh anti-immigration laws. The Suns first wore the Los Suns jersey shortly after the state passed S.B. 1070 in 2010, a law which made it easier for police to identify and detain immigrants.

In January of last year, after racist chants from the crowd during a friendly match against a lower-tier Italian club, AC Milan soccer player Kevin Prince-Boateng walked off the field, effectively ending the match. He returned at a later game wearing a jersey with the words “AC Milan against racism,” attached to the back.

Soccer player Kevin Prince-Boateng wears a Jersey with an anti-racist slogan on the back.
Antonio Calanni/AP

In addition to taking a stand on racism, professional sports players have stood up against homophobia in recent years.  In Europe, the English Football Association-Backed Football v. Homophobia campaign has held dozens of events to educate soccer players and fans on campaigning for gay rights. And in the U.S., former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe began a months-long media blitz in 2012 to combat his teammates’ homophobic sentiments — a decision he believes ultimately contributed to his dismissal from the team.

Of course, players protesting racism and homophobia is nothing new. Sports protests against bigotry go back decades. Perhaps one of the most famous images in all of sports history is that of U.S. track and field stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who took their moment of fame on the podium during the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, to raise their fists in the name of black power.

Tommie Smith (center) and John Carlos (right) raise their gloved fists in a Black Power salute to express their opposition to racism in the U.S. during the 1968 Mexico Olympic Games.
OFF/AFP/Getty Images

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