African American Athletes Started Protesting In 1961

The protests were about inequality.

February is Black History Month and it was in the 1960s that African-American athletes decided they could protest and speak up. In 1961, the Boston Patriots Walter Beach was fired by the team’s management for saying he would not put up with Jim Crow rules in New Orleans where the team was supposed to play a pre-season game. Beach was labeled a troublemaker but found a job in the NFL in 1962. The 1965 American Football League All Star Game was moved from New Orleans to Houston because 22 African American athletes decided to boycott the game because of a number of reasons including not getting cab rides from the airport to the hotel and being insulted or threatened physically. The boycott has been forgotten by many. It came two years before Muhammad Ali refused military service and the Cleveland Summit, a group of black sports stars including Beach, supported Ali. In 1968, Thommie Smith and John Carlos, supported by an Australian athlete named Peter Norman, staged a protest during the playing of the American national anthem at podium following the 200-meter event at the Mexico City Olympics. The two were protesting poverty, hunger and treatment of African Americans in the United States throughout the years. Smith and Carlos were inducted into the United States Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame in 2019 as they “courageously” stood up for racial equality.  Kareem Abdul Jabbar boycotted the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

Curt Flood refused to accept his trade from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies that was made on December 7, 1969. On Christmas Eve, 1969 Flood decided to challenge baseball’s reserve clause which kept a player tied to a team in perpetuity. He ultimately lost in the Supreme Court. Eventually baseball players could become free agents. Flood’s efforts paved the way.

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