Athletes and Activism

Bias, Discrimination & Hate
Race & Racism
Social Justice
American gold medalist Tommie Smith (center) and bronze medalist John Carlos (right) with raised fists at 1968 Summer Olympics

Angelo Cozzi

Grade Level:
High School
Common Core Standards:
Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening
Bias, Discrimination & Hate
Race & Racism
Social Justice

Athletes Protest and Take a Stand on Injustice

After the grand jury in Cleveland, Ohio failed to indict the police officers who shot twelve-year old Tamir Rice (who was shot while carrying a pellet gun in November 2014), activists and followers on social media urged Cleveland Cavaliers icon LeBron James to sit out games in protest. This incident and many others have moved athletes to speak out, protest and call for justice.

In August 2016, NFL San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to take a stand about racial injustice by refusing to stand for the national anthem at football games. Kaepernick said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” His protest has spread to other players in the NFL, other professional athletes and some high school players have also joined in. At the University of Missouri (“Mizzou”), students protested—including a weeklong hunger strike—because of their perception that Tim Wolfe, the college’s President, was not addressing the racial issues on campus. After the football team threatened to stop playing until Wolfe resigned, the President left his position. In December 2015, Everytown for Gun Violence partnered with the National Basketball Association (N.B.A.) in an advertising campaign about gun violence and several basketball players were featured in the television ad. In January 2020, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that during the Summer 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, athletes will be banned from demonstrating or protesting at the Games. The Olympic Charter already prohibits athletes from protesting at the Games, but this recent announcement gave specific examples of what counts as “protest.” This is especially significant since political protest among athletes has surged in recent years. These situations are examples of how athletes (from college to professional) can use their power and influence to stand up for social justice issues.

About the Lesson Plan

This high school lesson provides an opportunity for students to learn more about and reflect upon athletes who have taken stands on political issues.

Learning Objectives:

  • Students will explore different opinions about the role that professional athletes should play in politics and activism.
  • Students will learn about athletes throughout history who have taken stands in different ways on political issues.
  • Students will reflect on issues that are important to them and produce a written piece in order to urge an athlete or famous person to do something about it.

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