Fil-Am Jordan Clarkson (L) and Naomi Osaka (R) are only two of the numbers of athletes expressing their support for the Black Lives Matter movement
Sport, race and activism: Why athletes speak out against racism
Luisa Morales ( - June 5, 2020 - 1:35pm

MANILA, Philippines – The Black Lives Matter movement has been gaining traction in different sectors of society following the death of black man George Floyd in police custody.

Perhaps surprisingly, among the louder voices in the movement are from one sector that usually prefers to stay out of political issues — sports and its athletes.

Sports personalities, players and coaches alike, all over the world have shown their solidarity in the fight against racism and police brutality — from the football players of Europe to the Fil-foreign cagers of the PBA.

So why does a usually neutral sector of society get deeply involved in the issue of racism? Probably because athletes and coaches themselves are often victims of this systemic problem.

Whether leagues across the globe admit it or not, sport continues to be one of the most prevalent avenues of racism.

One of the sports events most plagued by the issue is football.

As recent as 2019, numerous incidents of racist fans marred the sports’ biggest leagues both at the club and international level.

Newcastle United left back Danny Rose saw abuse so bad that he "couldn't wait" for his career to end to escape the constant racist attacks.

After the news of Floyd's death, numerous football clubs across the globe "took a knee" to show their solidarity.


Football takes a knee.

A post shared by Bleacher Report Football (@brfootball) on

Meanwhile in basketball, while not as prevalent, dark-skinned players are not spared from discrimination.

In the PBA, San Miguel Beermen Arwind Santos drew flack last year after seemingly making a monkey gesture at African-American TNT import Terrence Jones during the 2019 PBA Commissioner's Cup.

While Santos wasn't suspended for his actions, he was still fined Php200,000.

A number of PBA Fil-foreign players also showed solidarity to the Black Lives Matter movement with their own online protest where they kneeled for almost nine minutes —  the same timeframe it took for police officer Derek Chauvin to kill Floyd after kneeling on his neck.

Santos' teammate Chris Ross even shared his own close encounter with police brutality while he was in the United States, further reaffirming their message: "Could've been me".

Even in the NBA, events like this are also happening.

In 2017, then Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James' home in Los Angeles fell victim to vandalism with a racial slur a day before the NBA Finals.

"No matter how much money you have, no matter how famous you are, no matter how many people admire you, being black in America is tough," James said of the incident.

Then in 2018, Russell Westbrook — then with the Oklahoma City Thunder — also heard a racial slur from a Utah Jazz fan during the first round of the NBA playoffs.

So it was not surprising to see several NBA players being vocal about their support for the movement, because they are no strangers to the issue.


Dame joined the protest in Portland (via @damianlillard)

A post shared by Bleacher Report (@bleacherreport) on

In American Football, Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers drew flack for sitting down and kneeling during the national anthem in a preseason game in 2016.

Kaepernick explained his stance that it was a protest against the oppression of black people in America.


Four years later, @kaepernick7’s message is still relevant.

A post shared by Bleacher Report (@bleacherreport) on

National Football League (NFL) teams have since been reluctant to sign the quarterback due to his activism.

Meanwhile, fellow quarterback Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints was criticized following "insensitive" comments about kneeling protests after Floyd's death.


Brees spoke up on kneeling during the anthem today. Bron wasn’t having it.

A post shared by Bleacher Report (@bleacherreport) on

Other sporting leagues are also not spared from racism in one form or another.

Even in collegiate leagues here in the Philippines, athletes are still not spared.

UAAP Season 81 men's basketball MVP Bright Akhuetie fell victim to a racist attack in a viral frat chat in 2018.

While De La Salle Lady Spikers skipper Aduke Ogunsanya opened up earlier this year about fans spewing out racist slurs at her online because of her dark skin.

As long as the issue remains prevalent in society, and as long as athletes — high profile or not — continue to experience it, sports will always take a stand against it.

"Sports and politics don't mix" be damned.

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