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Athletes influence social change throughout history

Along with celebrating back-to-back World Cup wins, the U.S. national women's soccer team has also embraced its role in advocating for LGBTQ inclusion and gender equity. While other professional sports in the U.S. seem to lack openly gay players, the UWNT has become a source of pride for LGBTQ Americans. Time and time again, the team has stood together on issues of inclusiveness.

Even as the Women's World Cup champions take the world by storm, social activism in sports has existed for about as long as sport itself. Long before Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem, athletes engaged in protests at the Olympic Games and numerous other arenas. In some cases, putting their careers on the line.

A history of social activism in sports


After learning he was representing the United Kingdom instead of his native Ireland, long jumper Peter O’Connor scales a flagpole at the Olympic Games in Athens during his own medal ceremony to replace the Union Jack with a green Irish flag.


Muhammed Ali refuses to be drafted into the United States Army due to religious objections. He is convicted of draft evasion and stripped of his heavyweight title. The Supreme Court overturns his conviction in 1971.


Olympic gold and bronze medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos of the United States don black gloves and raise their fists into the air during the medal ceremony to protest racial inequality and violence against black Americans. Both were later suspended from the Olympic team.


Tennis legend Billie Jean King threatens to lead a boycott of the U.S. Open if they fail to give equal prize money to male and female champions. It worked, and tennis became one of the few sports to pay men and women equally in major tournaments.


Five NFL players from the St. Louis Rams walk on the field with their hands in the air, the “Hands up, don’t shoot” pose used by protestors following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Despite backlash from the St. Louis Police Officers Association, the League chose not to discipline the team or the players.

Helping athletes advocate for themselves and others

Many athletes who have spoken up on social issues over the years have faced retaliation in their sport. When an athlete chooses to use their platform to advocate for social change, they should have someone in their corner - advocating for them

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