San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s recent protest of the national anthem has made headlines over the last week for the controversy that ensued and the many, many hot takes it inspired. But he’s not the first athlete whose protests have intersected with politics and race.
Kaepernick’s decision to not stand for the national anthem harkens back to similar incidents, like when the NBA’s Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was punished by the league in 1996 for refusing to stand for the national anthem because it didn’t align with his Islamic beliefs, the fallout from which had a major impact on his career.
And, in 2004, Carlos Delgado, of Major League Baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays, chose to protest the Iraq War by remaining seated in the team’s dugout while “God Bless America” was played during the seventh-inning stretch, a new tradition from the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Kaepernick’s protest also follows the likes of the Los Angeles Clippers, who wore their warm-ups inside-out in 2014 in protest of the racist rants by then-owner Donald Sterling, and Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who made the Black Power salute on the Olympic podium during the 1968 Summer Olympics.
There have even been larger scale protests, like the University of Missouri’s football team threatening to boycott games in the fall of 2015 over racism on campus and the NFL’s decision in 1990 to take the Super Bowl away from Arizona over the state’s vote to refuse acknowledgement of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a national holiday.
But Kaepernick’s protest is also part of a continuing trend of athletes taking a stand in support of the ideals of the Black Lives Matter movement, if not as part of the movement itself.
Here’s a look at other protests by athletes in the era of Black Lives Matter.
The Miami Heat honor Trayvon Martin
In March 2012, a month after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, NBA superstar LeBron James posted a photo of himself and his then-team, the Miami Heat, wearing hoodies, to honor Martin.
In the wake of Martin’s shooting at the hands of George Zimmerman, who considered Martin, who was unarmed and simply walking home from the convenience store, “suspicious” partly because he was wearing a hoodie with the hood up, the hoodie became a symbol of protest.
St. Louis Rams take the field with “Hands up, don’t shoot” gesture
On Nov. 30, 2014, just days after a Missouri grand jury decided not to issue charges against police officer Darren Wilson for the August 2014 shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, five members of the St. Louis Rams took to the field during team introductions making the “Hands up, don’t shoot” gesture used by protesters.
A strange war of words between the team and police officials followed but, ultimately, neither the Rams nor the league chose to punish the five players involved (Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Kenny Britt, Chris Givens and Jared Cook).
Knox College player protests Ferguson grand jury decision
The same weekend the Rams made their protest, a similar protest took place on a much smaller stage. Ariyana Smith, a player for Knox College (of Illinois) made her own “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture before a game against Fontbonne University. The game was being played in Clayton, Missouri, the same city in which the grand jury that didn’t charge Wilson had gathered.
Smith was initially suspended by the school for one game, but that suspension was eventually reversed.
“I could not go into that gymnasium and pretend that everything was okay. I could not, in good conscience, I could not play that game,” Smith said later.
NBA, NFL players honor Eric Garner with ‘I can’t breathe’ t-shirts
The July 2014 chokehold death of Eric Garner, who, like Martin and Brown, was unarmed, resonated the following fall with professional athletes. A video of the incident catches Garner exclaiming, “I can’t breathe,” while a police officer holds him down; the quote would become a rallying cry for protesters.
Derrick Rose, then of the Chicago Bulls, wore a shirt with “I can’t breathe” written across it during warm-ups of a game in December 2014. He said of the shirt, “It wasn’t any one [person’s] idea, I just thought I wanted to support something that happened. That’s what made me wear the shirt.”
Rose wasn’t alone. Joining him in making similar statements were LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and members of the Brooklyn Nets.
NBA commissioner David Silver said at the time, I respect Derrick Rose and all of our players for voicing their personal views on important issues but my preference would be for players to abide by our on-court attire rules.”
After discussions with the NBA, the NBA decided not to fine the players while players agreed to no longer wear the shirts; they have continued to be active in public discussions over the issue, though.
WNBA players wear shirts in support of Black Live Matters, Dallas PD
This summer’s wave of violence, including the killings of unarmed black men Philando Castile and Alton Sterling and the shooting deaths of five Dallas Police officers, prompted action from WNBA players.
In Minnesota, where Castile had been killed, officers working security for the game walked off in protest of the shirts worn by Minnesota Lynx players.
After several teams wore similar shirts or simply plain black t-shirts, the WNBA sent out a statement to teams that the shirts violated league policy and if they wore the shirts again, fines would be issued. Eventually, players for the Indiana Fever, New York Liberty and Phoenix Mercury were fined over their decision to continue to alter their on-court attire in some way in support of the movement.
Unlike with the NBA, players battled back against the league. Fever player Tamika Catchings, said, “Instead of the league taking a stance with us, where they tell us they appreciate us expressing our concerns like they did for Orlando, we’re fighting against each other.”
A few days later, after much public debate, the WNBA backed off on the fines.