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Aaron, and other Black athletes, broke barriers and changed the political climate before the Civil Rights Movement commenced. In fact, he was among the early influx of Black players to follow Robinson, breaking in to the majors in 1954, a month before the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education ruling that opened the way for school integration.
Then in the 1960s, men like Bill Russell, Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali, Curt Flood and even Spencer Haywood, challenged America’s segregated policies and used their celebrity to force the political climate to become more inclusive.
In particular, gold medalist sprinter, Tommie Smith, along with bronze medalist John Carlos, raised black-gloved fists at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City to protest the treatment of Blacks in the United States.
The controversial salute during the national anthem by Smith and Carlos came six months after King’s assassination. Predictably both athletes were denigrated and disparaged by White America for their actions.
“People wanted to label me a militant,’’ Smith, 64, told me in an interview. “The fact of the matter is what we did was a Project for Human Rights. We needed to bring attention to the negative condition of too many in the States.”
Sports and politics go hand in hand, much to the chagrin of many; however, they will always be wedded.
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