There’s A Long History Of Athletes Protesting The National Anthem

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Katie Jerkovich Entertainment Reporter
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Gwen Berry’s snub during the national anthem is just the latest in a long line of protest moments in history in both sporting events and at the Olympics.

During the 1968 Olympics American sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith showed the black power salute during the medal ceremony, USA Today reported. The two Olympians stood on the medal stand and both raised a black-gloved fist with their heads down during the playing of the “The Star-Spangled Banner.” (RELATED: ‘7 Jersey’ From Nike Honoring Anniversary Of Kaepernick Taking A Knee Sells Out In Minutes)

Smith later shared that the two also took the stand shoeless with black socks on to “to symbolize poverty in the black community” and that the scarf he wore was a symbol of “black pride and blackness in America.”

In Smith’s 2007 autobiography published in 2007 titled, “Silent Gesture,” he said the black power salute was a “human rights salute.”

The two were suspended by the U.S. Olympic Committee and sent home, The New York Times reported.

In 1972, Olympic track stars Vince Matthews and Wayne Collett, who were both black, “did not face the flag” while on the medal podiums during the sports in Munich, Germany, according to The New York Times. The two athletes were then barred from the Olympic competition by the International Olympic Committee.

A year later, college track athletes were booed by fans when several of them didn’t stand during the playing of the national anthem at Nassau Coliseum in Long Island, the outlet noted.

One of the track stars from Eastern Michigan, who had stayed on the ground and continued to warm up during the anthem, later said he meant no harm.

“I was just stretching out, preparing for my race,” the runner shard. “I didn’t mean any protest, and I’m sorry I caused such a commotion.”

The booing reportedly continued and eventually the Eastern Michigan team was disqualified after some of the officials threatened to walk off the floor if the team was allowed to compete.

The coach of Eastern Michigan, Bob Parks, said he was surprised by the crowd’s reaction.

“At our place, when they play ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ at basketball games, a lot of the black students don’t stand,” the coach said. “I guess things are different here.”

Denver Nuggets’ star Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was suspended without pay for one game by the National Basketball Association in 1996 after he refused the stand for the national anthem, the Times noted.

The basketball star, who had converted to Islam five years earlier, had previously cited religious beliefs for his refusal to stand during the anthem.

Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik said Mahmoud had violated a league rule that requires coaches, trainers and players to “stand and line up in a dignified posture” during the anthem, either in Canada or the U.S. That summer the Nuggets traded him to the Sacramento Kings, the Los Angeles Times reported. He ended up leaving the NBA in 1998 to play in Turkey, CBS News reported.

In 2004, Carlos Delgado of the Toronto Blue Jays protested during the playing of “God Bless America” during a game against the New York Yankees, The New York Times noted.

Delgado had done it several times before during the season because, he said, he was against the ongoing War on Terror three years after the attacks on September 11, 2001.

“I am not pro-war; I’m antiwar,” Carlos shared, the outlet noted. ”I’m for peace.”

He signed a four-year contract to play for Florida Marlins the following year, CBC reported. After one year with the team, he was traded to the New York Mets, ESPN noted. (RELATED: LeBron James Says He Hopes He Made Colin Kaepernick ‘Proud’ By Kneeling During The National Anthem)

Then, former San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick started a firestorm when he took a knee during the playing of the national anthem in 2016.


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It happened for the first time ahead of the 2016 season, when the 49ers quarterback didn’t stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” and remained seated on a side-line bench before a pre-season football game, USA Today reported.

Kaepernick later said he wasn’t protesting the anthem, but instead bringing awareness to “systemic racism and social injustice.”

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color,” the NFL player shared. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Delgado later was asked about Colin’s kneeling and he said he supported it if it was being done for a purpose.

“I think it is important that athletes, who have this platform, where they can reach millions of people, they should use it,” the MLB star shared, the outlet noted. “If your principles indicate that you want to do something or must do it, you should act, whether you act alone or with others.”

During that same year, U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe made headlines when she took a knee during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” ahead of a match against Thailand at the National Women’s Soccer League game.

“I think ultimately I just went with what’s in my heart,” Rapinoe said, according to the Times. “I truly feel like I am representing my country by doing this, in representing everyone that lives in this country, not just the people who look like me.”

In 2017, the U.S. Soccer’s Anthem policy was enacted that said players and staff members must “stand respectfully” for the national anthem. In 2020, the rule was repealed.

The latest athlete to generate attention for protesting the national anthem in some form is Gwen Berry

In June, the U.S. Olympian turned away from the American flag and put a shirt over her head that read “Activist Athlete” when she was on the podium during the U.S. Olympic track and field trials.

The hammer thrower had qualified for the summer Olympics in Tokyo and was standing in third place on the podium as the national anthem started playing. Berry turned away from the flag while first and second place winners, DeAnna Price and Brooke Andersen, remained facing the flag, ESPN reported.

“I feel like it was a set-up, and they did it on purpose,” Berry said.  “I was pissed, to be honest.”

“I really don’t want to talk about the anthem because that’s not important,” she added. “The anthem doesn’t speak for me. It never has.”

Following a backlash against the athlete, Gwen has said her goal is just to compete and bring home gold for the U.S., Fox News reported.

“I never said that I didn’t want to go to the Olympic Games, that’s why I competed and got third and made the team,” Berry shared with BNC News.

“I never said that I hated the country,” she added. “I never said that. All I said was I respect my people enough to not stand for or acknowledge something that disrespects them. I love my people. Point blank, period.”

The latest was not the first time, Berry would protest before a Team USA event, the outlet noted. She previously raised a fist during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” after she won the gold at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.