10. The Real Battle in Ohio
Joe Robbins via Getty Images / Via huffingtonpost.com
On December 27th, wide receiver Andrew Hawkins took the field against the Kansas City Chiefs with a message boldly strapped to his Brown’s uniform. His shirt called for justice for two unarmed black men killed by police officers in Ohio in 2014 – Tamir Rice and John Crawford III.
Both Tamir Rice and John Crawford were shot nearly on sight by police officers while holding toy guns – Rice at a playground and Crawford in a Walmart. Grand Jury declined indictment for the police officers involved in both shootings.
Hawkins joins dozens of athletes, including NFL corner Richard Sherman and NBA star Derrick Rose, who have worn or spoken messages of solidarity for Black Lives unjustly stolen by police brutality.
Gary Pinkel / Via Twitter: @GaryPinkel
With the potential to cost the Southeastern Conference football program millions of dollars, the football players of University of Missouri went on strike this year to protest conditions for black students on campus. This strike, a tactic amidst a larger campus-wide strategy, led to the removal of University President Tim Wolfe.
Side Note: Two years ago, this same team stood in solidarity with teammate Michael Sam when he told the world he was gay.
8. A Wheaties Box Hero Transcends
Vanity Fair/Annie Leibovitz / Via thenation.com
Once known for shaggy hair, rippling muscles, and Olympic glory; Caitlyn Jenner won the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at this years’ ESPYs for her tremendous display of personal bravery. As Dave Zirin wrote, “Gender is self-determination, and Caitlyn Jenner seizing that self-determination in such a public fashion will save lives.” The actions of Caitlyn Jenner provide greater opportunity for advocates to shed light on the trans experience – from the epidemic of violence on the community, to the high suicide rates of trans teens, to the plight of black trans women.
7. South Carolina’s most public figures on the confederate flag
youtube.com / Via sbnation.com
South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier weighed in on the flag back in 2007, and took no hesitation in affirming his position in 2015 after white-supremacist Dylann Roof’s racially-charged shooting rampage in a Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
“I realize I’m not supposed to get in the political arena as a football coach, but if anybody were ever to ask me about that damn Confederate flag, I would say we need to get rid of it. I’ve been told not to talk about that. But if anyone were ever to ask me about it, I certainly wish we could get rid of it,” said Spurrier.
South Carolina’s Athletic Director, school president, both head basketball coaches and the school QB have also commented on the need to remove the flag.
Warriors Basketball / Via Twitter: @warriors
2015 has been a year of heightened Islamophobia, championed by Presidential candidates and fueled by ISIL.
In an act of religious oppression, Muslims Deah Shaddy Barakat (23), his 21 year old wife, and her sister were murdered by a neighbor in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Deah, a huge fan of the Golden State Warriors, was memorialized by Steph Curry during the All Star Game on February 12.
And kudos to to NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who used his post-game interview to scold a fan for shouting “Muslims Suck” during November 15th’s pre-game National Anthem ceremony at Lambeau Field.
5. Calling Foul on Hate Speech
Screenshot via FunkyAxel1111 on Youtube / Via deadspin.com
Sacramento King Rajon Rondo spewed gay slurs at NBA referee Bill Kennedy after receiving a technical foul in the December 3rd game in Mexico City. This attack prompted a one game suspension for Rondo and moved Kennedy to come out of the closet as the first openly gay man in refereeing.
“I am proud to be an NBA referee and I am proud to be a gay man,” Kennedy told Yahoo! Sports. “I am following in the footsteps of others who have self-identified in the hopes that will send a message to young men and women in sports that you must allow no one to make you feel ashamed of who you are.”
Jason Collins, the NBA’s first openly gay player, retired in late 2014.
4. Connection Amidst Baltimore Upheaval
youtube.com / Via baltimoresun.com
In the wake of the death of Freddie Gray, whose broken spinal cord further demonstrated systemic police brutality on the Black community, Baltimore athletic professionals were vocal in many ways. Orioles COO John Angelos offered an educated defense of the activism and Knicks star Carmelo Anthony returned home from New York to march with protestors.
In a special press conference on the issue, Adam Jones, centerfielder for the Orioles, delivered an impassioned, eloquent personal narrative relating his own experiences to the struggle felt in the community and subsequent protests in the streets around Camden Yard.
The Orioles seemed caught in the middle of the action that unfolded in Baltimore. During Saturday nights’ game, as energy peaked throughout the city, fans were held back in the stadium after the game due to safety concerns. Games on Monday and Tuesday were postponed as protests continued throughout the city. On Wednesday, April 29th – with protestors still occupying the streets – the Orioles and White Sox took Camden Field for what may have been the first game in history played without the presence of fans.
3. Love Over Hate
AP / Via thehindu.com
Serena Williams decidedly ended a 14 year boycott of the Indian Wells tennis tournament with a return in February. Her first tournament appearance in 2001 was victorious, but stained by a soundtrack of racial slurs, boos and jeers spewed from the crowd.
ESPN reports: after spending many years “scared” to go back, she wrote, “I’m just following my heart on this one.” Williams tied her comeback to a fundraising effort to support the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit organization providing legal representation to indigent defendants and prisoners denied fair and just treatment in the legal system.
2. The Wrong Guy
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports / Via sbnation.com
Last April, Thabo Sefolosha of the Atlanta Hawks got his leg broken by a New York City cop for no good reason, taking him out of a could-be historic playoff run. He has since rejected a plea bargain drawn up to circumvent obstruction charges, been exonerated of all charges by grand jury, and is set to file a $50 million civil suit against the city of New York, the NYPD and the officers involved claiming racial profiling as the cause of this injustice.
1. US Women’s Soccer Levels the Playing Field
Hope Solo / Via Twitter: @hopesolo
In December, the team decided to cancel a victory tour match against Trinidad and Tobago citing unsafe playing conditions which included jagged turf at Hawaii’s Aloha Stadium. This cancelation is just one of many moments the team has taken to highlight gender inequality in the sport, demonstrated most dramatically by the 2015 Women’s World Cup Win. Despite drawing nearly 25 million viewers worldwide, the women’s team split $2 million dollars in prize money for their win compared to the men’s $35 million pot for their 2014 loss.
Abby Wambach, who scored the winning goal in the victorious 2015 World Cup campaign, retired in late October with a commitment to gender equity in sports and advocating for female leadership in FIFA, soccer’s organizing body.