Muhammad Ali was one of sports 1960’s rebels. Ali, the members of the 1965 American Football League All-Star team that refused to play in New Orleans following the 1964 season because of Jim Crow, Billie Jean King and Curt Flood make the list.
Ali’s refusal to join the armed forces in 1967 was the second great statement by African-American athletes in the 1960’s. It came about two years after twenty-two African-American football players were denied services in New Orleans in the lead up to an all-star game. The players voted to boycott and the game was moved to Houston. The athletes put their careers on the line but didn’t suffer any damage. New Orleans ceased being in the running for either an AFL or NFL team.
On April 28, 1967, after refusing to join the army because he was against the Vietnam War, Ali faced a felony charge and jail. That was enough to get New York State Athletic Commission to suspend his boxing license and the World Boxing Association to strip him of his title. Eventually, Ali would get his case to the Supreme Court and would win. The Supreme Court decision came after the March 1971 Ali-Frazier fight. In 1970, a judge ruled the New York State Athletic Commission was wrong to strip him of his boxing license and Ali went back to fighting. During his exile from the ring, Ali gave anti-Vietnam War speeches. Political hacks needlessly stuck it to Ali as did a sports association.
Billie Jean King was pushing for women’s equality in tennis at the same time and after the 1969 season, Curt Flood began his battle with baseball over the reserve clause after being traded by St. Louis to Philadelphia. John Carlos and Thommie Smith protested poverty during a medal ceremony at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. The Smith-Carlos protest mattered little. The others got results. Some athletes in the 1960’s made a difference, like Muhammad Ali.
By Evan Weiner for The Politics of Sports Business.
This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, Evan Weiner.