When Sports, Race, and Politics Collide

Sports stars such as Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith, and Colin Kaepernick have all taken a stand in favor of civil rights.

In fraught times, we, as human beings, often turn to a great relief from our woes through sport. Cities and nations rally behind teams and athletes, even in the darkest hours. The Detroit Tigers, for example, helped knit together the first threads of healing over the astounding scars of the uprising with their World Series win in 1968. 

Athletes have also been able to turn their celebrity into a platform for social change during times of unrest. Sports stars such as Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, and Colin Kaepernick have all taken a stand in favor of civil rights. 

Louis Moore, associate professor of history at Grand Valley State University, speaks with Detroit Today host Stephen Henderson about the intersection of sports and activism. 

According to Moore, as the Civil Rights Movement began to heat up in the early 60’s “athletes realize that with thousands of young students getting involved that it’s their time to get involved too.” 

This was especially true for African-American athletes who “thought as long as they succeed that America will embrace black people,” says Moore. “By the early 1960’s they’ve realized that’s not the case.”

The conversation shifts to a discussion about the consequences of protesting the national anthem. 

“We’re so used to seeing athletes just, you know, get up (during the anthem)…and it’s very rare that we see someone…protest during the national anthem,” Moore says. “When they do, people don’t like that because it forces us to wrestle with the reality that what we think about America, what we say about America…hasn’t actually been the case.” 

Click on the audio player above to hear the full conversation.


  • Detroit Today
    Dynamic and diverse voices. News, politics, community and the issues that define our region. Hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Stephen Henderson, Detroit Today brings you fresh and perceptive views weekdays at 9 am and 7 pm.