Peter J. Kaplan
7 min readJul 20, 2020



And Tommie Smith and John Carlos. And before that? ……

“Republicans buy sneakers too…” MJ.

“I ain’t got no quarrel with the Viet Cong. No [V. C.] ever called me a nigger…” Muhammad Ali.

“Disgusting…comical,” to disinvite. “To be aware is important…the country’s an embarrassment to the world…” Gregg Popovich on Donald Trump’s antics/behavior.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution — one of ten amendments embraced by the Bill of Rights — was drafted and submitted to the states for ratification in 1789, adopted in 1791 and revised in 1992 and “prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, ensuring that there is no prohibition on the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble, or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances…

Commercial speech, however, is less protected by the First Amendment than political speech, and is therefore subject to greater regulation…”

Openly disrespecting the National Anthem and/or the American Flag (#1) and civilly protesting against racism, inequality, social injustice, police brutality or whatever else (#2) in the United States, represent a pair of separate and distinct issues.

Razor-sharp clarity is always welcomed and helpful and though an expert in the Constitution I am not, one point at issue seemingly has nothing to do with the other.

Nobody in their right mind could possibly disparage those who choose to risk their lives in defense of our country, then, now or at any time. Rather, we were, are and should always be deeply and forever indebted to our fighting men and women.

This thinking is basic, fundamental and indisputable.

Because the National Anthem and the American Flag are firmly-entrenched historic symbols of our patriotism and pride, they offer a forum which invites free (and civil) expression.

Although blind, unconditional and incontrovertible respect to the USA in any form is an absolute (given) value to some and not something to ever be threatened under any circumstances, people advance their own opinion(s) and should be allowed this (given) privilege, assuming that feelings are expressed in a peaceable way and within a civil domain.

There is no flag-stomping or burning in effigy here.

There is no boorish and ignorant attempt to drown out the anthem or render it inaudible.

The concept of civil disobedience has long been and will probably always be a hot-button issue; American author Henry David Thoreau wrote a famous essay extolling its importance and justifying such action in 1848.

We are talking about the long-protected Constitutional right of freedom of expression.

We may think differently (thank God) but we are all the same.

These NFL athletes — thanks to the rush of awareness imparted in no small measure by Colin Kaepernick who is still blackballed by the league’s owners at this writing — kneeling, locking arms or not making themselves visible at all during the presentation of the National Anthem and our Colors — as well as those standing, some with right hands over their hearts or simply saluting — represent the tip of the iceberg, circa 2017.

And this is great not good because it begs for discourse. It demands it.

And meaningful exchange there is and will be.

Should sports be politicized?

Should politics as we know and understand it, stick its nose into sports?

Endless fodder for discussion.

Or rather should we discuss Texas? Florida? Puerto Rico? Las Vegas? North Korea? Rick Pitino?

Maybe even the however unlikely prospect that if the present Commander-In-Chief is ignored entirely, he’ll disappear over time?

Perhaps we should focus on one of many teachable moments pertinent to the interrelationship between sports and politics, which took place for the world to see at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City’s Olympic Stadium.

The life of Peter Norman, an Australian silver-medalist in the 200-meter track event, would be forever changed and it had nothing whatever to do with the actual running of the race.

After catching breath and cooling down Norman was approached by the first- and third-place finishers, Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos, respectively.

Smith and Carlos asked Norman if he believed in human rights because at the medal ceremony they explained that they would be staging a protest.

Norman’s response?

“I’ll stand with you.”

On the Olympic podium Smith raised a black leather-gloved right fist and Carlos a black leather-gloved left fist with their heads bowed, as the United States’ National Anthem played.

Norman looked straight ahead, hands by his side.

This photograph is a legendary and lasting sporting image of the twentieth century.

Ray Weinberg, then Norman’s coach who is now ninety years of age, said at the time, “Peter had established a connection with them — they were going through more than many of us could understand at the time.”

Smith and Carlos were in short order banned from further competition and removed from the Olympic Village. They got off easy. After all, this was (and still is believe it or not) the United States of America.

Not so for the Aussie.

Australia was nowhere near as broad-minded shall we say in their thinking.

Norman was vilified and made a pariah by the Australian media.

The Australian Olympic Committee issued a stern reprimand and would not send him to the 1972 Olympic Games, effectively ending his running career. Pretty harsh punishment for a native son whose ’68 silver-medal-winning time to this day stands as the Australian record for the swiftest 200 meters ever run.

But the sharpest stick to Norman’s eye came when he did not receive an official invitation to the 2000 Olympics held in Sydney.

It was as though he never existed.

He certainly existed for Smith and Carlos who flew to Melbourne to be pallbearers at his 2006 funeral.

It took another six years for the Australian Parliament to pass a motion formally apologizing to Norman and to recognize the “powerful role” his actions played.

Andrew Leigh, the Australian minister who pushed the motion conceded that, “it’s a great Australian story that deserves to be better known.”

And coach Weinberg still can’t figure it all out. He sees Norman as a revealing example of how outspoken sporting figures, their luminary status notwithstanding, look down the barrel of a lifetime of negative consequences as a result of their political positions.

Sports and politics.

Politics and sports.

Strange bedfellows.

Or not.

Not strange for Chris Jackson who became Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf in 1993 following his conversion to Islam.

A nine-year NBA veteran (NBA Most Improved Player — 1993) who fell short of the all-time record for single-season free-throw shooting proficiency in 1995–6 by one miss, Abdul-Rauf is better known for the controversy he sparked by refusing to stand for the National Anthem and describing the American Flag as a symbol of oppression, many years before Kaepernick.

Citing what he believed to be the United States’ long history of ‘tyranny’ he felt that standing for the anthem would conflict with his Islamic beliefs.

After a two-day league suspension costing him $31,707 per game, a compromise was forged whereby he stood but was allowed to look downward with his eyes closed. He silently recited Islamic prayer for those suffering from all walks of life and of various ethnicities.

Michael Jordan needs no kind of intro. To anything, for anything or certainly about anything basketball.

Problem is, the world is so much bigger than basketball. And for whatever reason or host of reasons, he chose to turtle when it came to speaking out about important issues and events. Didn’t want to upend the gravy train perhaps, but regardless he was exercising his right.

Jordan is no Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Bill Russell or LeBron James.

That’s right James.

“The King,” who bypassed college and has been making his mark in the NBA since the age of eighteen, observes, listens and then speaks.

His mental acuity is as high as his basketball IQ and at age 32 with a wealth of real-life experience under his belt he is as savvy as he is smart.

He stumped for Hillary and refuses to call Trump by name, tweeting that the president is a “bum” and preferring to refer to him as “that guy” in interviews.

“We know this is the greatest country in the world,” James has said. “It’s the land of the free. But we still have problems just like everybody else and when we have those problems, we have to figure out a way how we come together and be as great as we can be as a people. Because the people run this country. Not one individual. And damn sure not him.”

Having spoken freely in the past about the need for societal change, James continued.

“He doesn’t understand the power that he has for being the leader of this beautiful country. He doesn’t understand how many kids, no matter the race, look up to the President of the United States for guidance, for leadership, for words of encouragement. He doesn’t understand that and that’s what makes me more sick than anything.”

He finished by offering this tidbit.

LeBron James with conviction and resolve remarked that he would not “let one individual, no matter the power, no matter the impact that he should have or she should have, ever use sports as a platform to divide us.”

This is precisely what Trump is doing.

His blatantly divisive and ceaseless ad nauseum narratives about the NFL and the NBA are never opportune of course.

But there are far bigger fish to fry domestically and globally.

And since December 15,1791 — nearly 226 years ago — when the First Amendment along with the rest of the Bill of Rights was adopted, we’ve enjoyed the right and the freedom to speak, express and assemble civilly.


Or not.

It is each individual’s personal choice to make.

May that never, ever change.

[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in October 2017.]