Athletes Who Didn’t “Stick to Sports”

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History Research Paper

Patrick LaBelle

US History 151

1 December 2019

Athletes Who Didn’t Stick to Sports

Athletics are undoubtedly among the most popular forms of entertainment for the American people with many athletes being looked at to provide some form of escape from the harsh realities that everyday life brings to the masses. This can cause a sentiment that athletes are just people putting on a show for our enjoyment and nothing more. It is because of this that many people are reluctant to support athletes who don’t just “stick to sports” but also delve into larger issues facing society. Laura Ingraham summed up the sentiments of many Americans on her Fox News show when she made the statement that athletes such as LeBron James should “shut up and dribble” instead of giving any political commentary. Furthermore, the President of the United States put out a comment saying that owners who see a player kneeling should “get that son of a bitch off the field”. However, despite the comments of a boisterous few, history has displayed time and time again through the actions of athletes including Muhammed Ali, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, and Colin Kaepernick just how impactful activism within the realm of sport can be despite the immediate backlash it typically entails.

No athlete has ever embodied the athlete activist spirit quite as well as “The Greatest”- Muhammed Ali. Despite facing extreme backlash for his refusal to serve in the Vietnam war after his declaration of being a conscientious objector, Ali stuck true to his beliefs and supported doing what was right instead of doing what most did. He is a prime example of why the belief that athletes can’t have social impact is simply not true. Muhammed Ali was blunt when asked why he would risk his whole career and even imprisonment in order to protest the war saying “What’s wrong with me going to jail for something I believe in?” before adding “Boys are dying in Vietnam for something they don’t believe.”. There was nobody more willing to cut to the core of an issue than Muhammad Ali. Talking about something as frankly as he does about the United States military involvement in Vietnam took a lot of bravery during that time. Not only was he protesting the war he was also the heavyweight champion of the world which is important to note as it seems strange how even someone who partook in such a barbaric sport would still be opposed to the atrocities of war. In addition to moral religious dilemmas regarding the war Ali also spoke on the hypocrisy of America (white Americans specifically) for having the audacity to force black people to go to war to fight for equality when they didn’t even have equality in America. In a fiery response to college students who didn’t agree with his opposition to serving in the war Ali said “You won’t even stand up for me in America for my religious beliefs and you want me to go somewhere and fight when you won’t even stand up for me at home!”. It is remarkable to think about just how unpopular this statement was during this time period. Ali was considered a traitor by some simply for refusing to kill for a country that doesn’t even seem to care about his faith, religion, or in the broadest sense- him. However, as the years went by and the true picture of Vietnam came out it seems as though nobody was “on the right side of history” quite as much as Muhammed Ali although my next examples certainly give him a run for his money.

On October 16th, 1968 American track stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos finished first and third respectively at the Olympic Games being hosted in Mexico City. Smith had just set a world record in the 200m final but historically this would pale in comparison to a small gesture on the podium in the moments after; a black fist raised in the air. Smith along with Carlos had planned the gesture well in advance along with other Olympic hopefuls while at San Jose State. Smith declared “It was a cry for freedom coming from a young twenty-four-year old’s lips” when looking back on the day before clarifying that the protest was not just for black rights but human rights as a whole saying how he worked for the “Olympic Project for Human Rights” (a group that threatened to boycott the Olympics entirely if Muhammed Ali’s titles were not restored). It is important to note that the protest was far from a popular one at the time and many news outlets were reluctant to even show the act of dissent. The protest took a backseat to Smith’s record-breaking time for the most part and those who did cover the protest often took a negative stance including one piece written at the time by sports journalism icon Brent Musburger. In a scathing article, Musberger claimed that the two courageous men looked like “a couple of black-skinned storm troopers”. When the media responds to acts of protest in this manner it takes the focus off of what the people involved are actually protesting. Musberger would go on to write that working against racism is fine just not during a “fun and games tournament” such as the Olympics. This is an interesting place to draw the line considering the primary goal of protest is to draw attention to an issue. It doesn’t seem outlandish to think that the scale of the Olympics provided the perfect time and place for a peaceful protest that could be witnessed around the world. Despite winning the gold and bronze medal, Smith and Carlos were banned from the rest of the games in addition to being called a “disgrace” by the president of the International Olympic committee Avery Brundage. However, in a similar way to Muhammed Ali, history has looked favorably upon the two men as people who took a stand for what they believed in despite knowing they would face backlash for it and face major career and personal consequences. They are two people who must be kept in mind when trying to analyze what one particular athlete has been doing in the present day.

When Colin Kaepernick took a knee three years ago the American media lost their minds and political pundits started rubbing their hands together. Debate swirled over whether or not it was disrespectful to kneel for the anthem and if Kaepernick “hated the troops” so much so that the question of what Kaepernick was kneeling for was almost entirely overlooked. In the interview immediately following the protest Kaepernick explained his decision to kneel during the national anthem by saying “There are a lot of things going on that are unjust and people need to be held accountable for”. When pressed on what issues specifically he would like to see change Kaepernick voiced his disapproval of police brutality. “There’s people being murdered unjustly and not being held accountable” before saying “that’s not right by anyone’s standards”.

When questioned about whether the activism was a distraction from the team’s goal of making it to a Super Bowl Kaepernick retorted with “No, we’re focused on football while we’re in meetings and when we’re on the field” before adding “But in our free time we have conversations about this and that’s not something we should be ashamed about or shy away from…there’s a social responsibility we have to be educated on these things and talk about these things”. There is no doubt that Colin Kaepernick has become one of if not the most polarizing athletes of our time and it is not hard to understand why when people continuously demonize what he is trying to do. Bill O’Reilly of Fox News claimed that Kaepernick is “missing the bigger picture of his country” but I do not understand what “bigger picture” he is referring to. Is it the fact that police are able to murder unarmed civilians without any consequences? Is it the fact that mass incarceration has created what some scholars call “the first genuine prison society in history”? I don’t ask this facetiously I would truly like to know. Based on the historical precedence provided by athletes such as Ali, Smith, and Carlos there seem to be undeniable similarities to what is happening in the present day with Colin Kaepernick. The NFL serves as “fun and games tournament” for millions of Americans every Sunday and it is no surprise that people don’t seem to enjoy having the fun interrupted with a little bit of bitter reality. However, the notion that athletes have never been in the right when standing up for what they believe in is just flat out incorrect.

America is approaching a pivotal time in its history with people being able to access more information at their fingertips than ever before. The internet has created an extremely low barrier to entry for obtaining knowledge about issues that would previously have been reserved for only the most elite in society. However, the rhetoric used on TV and other mediums continuously focuses on people and events rather than getting down and dirty into the ideas- the true core of the issues being talked about. The responsibility of deciding what is right and wrong cannot be left solely up to the media to determine; it has to be decided by the people too. The courageous actions of Muhammed Ali, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos demonstrate how just because an opinion or stance is unpopular at the time does not make it wrong (with the same logic applying to popular ideas). With that in mind, it is of the utmost importance that the current case of Colin Kaepernick taking a stand against police brutality and inequality be looked at through the most critical of lenses. This could be one of the first times that Americans get it right in the present day instead of looking back in reverence years from now when people forget all about the issues he is trying to raise awareness for. There is a fantastic quote commonly attributed to former first lady of the United States Elanor Roosevelt that states “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people”. It is so easy to get bogged down in the details of certain people and events that the idea never even gets talked about. However, with the knowledge of brave athletes in the past there is certainly hope for a brighter future. A future where the exchange of ideas is put before the exchange of ignorance.



Athletes Who Didn’t “Stick to Sports”

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History Research Paper

RIP Pete Frates

By: Gerry Sullivan Twitter: @gerrysullivan12/@UltSportsBlogs




Finals season is upon us, and if you are anything like me you are probably up late into the night, working on assignments that are due or studying for your exams that are coming up. It’s an extremely stressful time of the year and it is easy for you to complain about everything that you have going on and feel sorry for yourself because you are so miserable.

It would have been easy for Pete Frates to do that. For those unfamiliar with his story, Pete was diagnosed with ALS in March of 2012 at age 27. A former Boston College baseball player, Pete was only 5 years out of college when he was diagnosed. He had his entire life in front of him, but suddenly that future was swiped away with his diagnosis. At age 27, Pete was told that his health was going to quickly get worse, and that he did not have much life in front of him. As his disease worsened, Pete was paralyzed and was forced into a wheelchair, lost his ability to talk, and was fed through a tube. With such a terrible situation given to him, it would have been easy for him to give up, feel sorry for himself, and complain to everyone about how his life was ruined.

But he didn’t.

Pete decided he was going to fight ALS, and he fought like hell. He was the one who really helped the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge explode during the summer of 2014, and the Ice Bucket Challenge helped raise $220 million for ALS research. 

Unfortunately, yesterday Pete’s 7-year long fight came to an end, as he died at the age of 34.

Pete Frates is an inspiration. He taught me and many others that no matter how bad a situation gets, you need to keep fighting and try to make the best of it. He inspired everyone he came into contact with, and was the true definition of a superhero. People not only in Boston, but all over the country, will be feeling this loss.

So, during this stressful time where you are facing some small adversity, just take a second to remember how Pete Frates responded to the most severe adversity anyone could face. He’s the ultimate role model, and every single person on this planet can take a lesson from the way he fought a disease in a way that most of us couldn’t. 

Rest in peace Pete Frates. An inspiration to all, and a leader in the fight to stop ALS.



Our Long National Nightmare is Over

By: Gerry Sullivan Twitter: @gerrysullivan12/@UltSportsBlogs

The world is an interesting place.

Your perspective on the world really tells what type of person you are. Some people like to think that the world is a good place while others think the world at its core is a bad place.

I like to think the world is a good place and ultimately good will win out. I’ve had that theory tested at times, but recently, I have had these beliefs further cemented in my life.

Over the last few years, I think the division of beliefs in the United States of America has become more prominent, especially with social media becoming a tool to discuss and essentially argue with people over disagreements. It’s sad to see close friends have hard feelings against each other over stupid things like politics.

It takes a truly momentous feat to unify an entire nation under the circumstances we are under today.

But it happened- and the world is a better place because of it.

The New York Yankees were eliminated from the playoffs on Saturday.

If you have even half a heart in your body- you hate the New York Yankees. They are the worst. I grew up hating the Yankees. I was taught to hate Derek Jeter from birth, I couldn’t stand A-Rod, and that passionate hatred continues today. It’s really not hard to hate guys like Gary Sanchez and Brett Gardner. It’s even easier to hate their cocky fan base, constantly yelling “27 rings” as if they’ve done anything of relevance within the last 20 years.

Nobody outside of New York cares for that team. Nobody. Everyone resents them. And the last 10 seasons of mediocre baseball from them has been a treat to sports fans everywhere. They are a cocky group of players and fans who act above everyone else as if they don’t have the record for most consecutive losses in the ALCS (4 ALCS defeats in a row for those wondering). They act as if nobody noticed them constantly being bested by the Red Sox ever since the infamous 2004 choke job when they blew a 3-0 lead. They act as if nobody notices that this is the 1st time in 100 years that they went a full decade without making it to the World Series. Their mystique is dead.

They are just like everyone else now.

Some might say sports fans put too much stock into millionaires playing kids games. I’d respond by saying shut up, go back to living your boring lives, and let me watch my sports in peace. The highlight of my weekend was watching Jose Altuve rip the heart out of each and every Yankee fan across the globe as they went into the offseason with nothing for the tenth year in a row. They have been owned this decade by franchises like the Red Sox, Astros, and Texas Rangers. Can you imagine that happening when Derek Jeter was on the team? They are a laughingstock.

They are right there with the Mets*, Jets, and Cleveland Browns.

Our long national nightmare is over. Even though the Red Sox had a rough year, they ended up with the same fate as the Yankees:

Being losers.

And after being losers for 10 years in a row, Yankee fans really don’t know what to do with themselves.

You hate to see it.


*- Actually, the Mets made a World Series this decade. The Yankees could be second in their own state right now. What a sad display.

Can We Take a Second and Relax?

By: Jake Sockett Twitter: @SockettJake Instagram: @jake.sockett

Upon doing my morning Twitter scroll, I came across a Bleacher Report tweet of a gif of Zion Williamson clenching his infinity-gauntlet clad fist, captioned “Fun isn’t something one considers when balancing the NBA.” I’m going to take the lead on this one and say to whoever at B/R tweeted that, from the bottom of my heart, shut the fuck up.


Zion Williamson is a 19-year-old kid who hasn’t played a single minute in the NBA and barely played in the Summer League before getting shut down due to injury. He averaged 22.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game at Duke on 68%/33%/64% shooting splits. Those stats are eerily similar to Carmelo Anthony’s lone season at Syracuse when he averaged 22.2 points, 10 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game on 45%/33%/70% splits. I’m not saying that Zion will be the next Melo, but let’s just acknowledge that his year at Duke wasn’t an unprecedented college season.

What I am saying is that we need to pump the breaks on this guy a little bit for his sake. Don’t get me wrong; he’s an incredibly exciting prospect. He’s freakishly athletic, skilled, and he’s great with media. If you’re a Pelicans fan (bless your heart if you are), this is the most excited you’ve been since the Boogie Cousins trade.

But he’s not LeBron James.

He’s got enormous expectations laid out for him and I don’t think there’s any way for him to reach them. What are we supposed to expect out of Zion other than immediate success if all we’ve been told is that he’s going to take the league by storm and dominate? How else are we supposed to be thinking when ESPN ranks him as the 42nd best player in the league right now?

I think Zion will be a good player. He might get the Pelicans to the seventh or eighth seed in an absolutely loaded Western Conference which would be a great feat. David Griffin has built a solid supporting cast for Zion. But keep in mind that a lot will hinge on Lonzo’s ability to stay healthy and mesh well with Jrue Holiday (which would be one of the best defensive guard duos in the league). Brandon Ingram’s health and ability to space the floor for Zion along with JJ Redick bouncing back after a down year in Philly will be key as well.

The only narrative that ESPN and B/R among other media outlets have created is that the Pelicans will only get in the playoffs if Zion drags them there in a herculean effort.

This is not going to happen in the West.

If Zion were in the East we might be having a different conversation, but the West is far too loaded for this to be feasible. If the Pelicans are going back to the playoffs, every single player on that team is going to have to be firing on all cylinders. There are just too many competitive teams that will be better than Zion on his own. But if the Pels make the playoffs that way (which is the only way they realistically will), the narrative of Zion being the savior will change and all these outlets will be pushing the story of “Are We Ready to Call Zion a Bust Yet?” 

It’s an incredibly well set up narrative for the media because regardless of how the guy plays or how his team does; they will have a story to write.

It’s unfair to Zion.

The coaches, the players, and everyone else will know what he really is on the court, and I think he’ll be good. He’s just not going to be LeBron- and that’s ok.

If I had to guess, the Pels will be vying for the eighth seed and will probably make the playoffs because the league wants them to. Zion will average 17-21 points and around 7 rebounds which would be a great rookie season. (Keep that in mind when Bleacher Report posts sad tweets about Zion not averaging 35/15/9).


Just saw those ugly ass Jordans Zion was wearing during media day- he’s averaging 6/2/0.


Editor’s Note:

I don’t know Jake- I see Zion as the second coming of Jesus Christ.

MVP and Championship or gtfo of the league.

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