As observers of sports, we often find ourselves in wonder at the physical achievements of the people we cover. The actions of so many of them over the past 12 months has shown us something else to admire. Here are some who left an impression with the CBC Sports staff:
The 23-year-old Japanese tennis star didn’t wait to see how other athletes would protest for Black Lives Matter. She was at the forefront of the protest.
She boldly wore the names of Breonna Taylor and others on her masks as she walked into matches at the U.S. Open.
She unapologetically used her voice to make her mark on the BLM movement. When people asked her to stick to sports and not get political, she used that as fuel to win matches and protest more.
– Monika Platek
When the NBA restarted in its bubble in Florida, the players had used their voice to raise awareness and push for change over systemic racism. On the courts and jerseys were phrases such as “Black Lives Matter”, “Say Their Names”, “Vote”, “I Can’t Breathe”, “Justice”, “Peace”, “Equality”.
But on Aug. 26, George Hill and the Milwaukee Bucks took it further. Just three days before, Jacob Blake had been shot by police in Kenosha, Wisc. Hill and other NBA players grew frustrated with the lack of change.
Minutes before their playoff game against the Orlando Magic, Hill and the Bucks announced they were not going to play. Hill read out a statement and sat down for an interview to discuss why the players decided to boycott their games to protest the continued social injustice they saw.
WATCH | Milwaukee Bucks on why they won’t play:
After becoming the first team to boycott games in the NBA bubble, the Milwaukee Bucks players made a joint statement to the media. 1:54
Hill would not answer any basketball-related questions as he wanted all the talk to be about Blake and his family and the social injustice. Immediately after Hill and the Bucks’ decision, the rest of the NBA, WNBA, several MLB teams, and eventually, the NHL paused action for two days.
– Cole Shelton
Pam Buisa and Charity Williams
Usually when you go on a professional athlete’s Instagram page you’ll see mainly professional shots of them competing, training or pushing a sponsored post like the influencers they are. Many will use their platforms to share the ups and downs of competition, or an inspiring #motivationmonday type message.
Not all will use their platform as authentically and passionately to support social change as we saw from Rugby Canada players Charity Williams and Pam Buisa. Since this summer’s protests in the wake of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the pair have been vocal on Instagram and at protests and gatherings in support of Black Lives Matter.
– Tanya Casole-Gouveia
Stop me if you’ve heard the one about the championship winning athlete from Quebec, who took a break from sports to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in long-term care homes in Montreal.
Kansas City Chiefs guard, Super Bowl LIV champion and McGill medical school graduate Laurent Duvernay-Tardif?
No. While his story is well known, Kim Clavel’s is not.
After taking a year off from nursing to train for boxing, Clavel, from Joliette, Que,. won the North American Boxing Federation female light flyweight title last December. She was set to fight — and make her first real payday — in the main event at the Montreal Casino on March 21 before the COVID-19 outbreak forced the cancellation 10 days before her bout.
After absorbing that body blow, Clavel went back to work as a replacement nurse, fighting COVID-19 in the pandemic-ravaged long-term care homes in Montreal. In June, Kim Clavel was named the ESPY Awards 2020 recipient of the Pat Tillman Award for Service.
– Bill Cooney
WATCH | Devin Heroux on the year that was:
Athletes around the world raised a collective voice in an unprecedented show of power. 5:03
Not only has Lewis Hamilton raised awareness and led the way in pushing Formula 1 to adopt a strong anti-racism stance, he formed his own Hamilton Commission aimed at making motorsport more diverse.
Although many in racing have supported Hamilton, including his own Mercedes team switching out their traditional ‘Silver Arrows’ look for an all-Black livery, and adopting Black Lives Matter masks, it hasn’t been easy for Hamilton to raise awareness for social change.
New rules were put in place by the the sport’s governing body to force drivers to remain in their race attire because Hamilton had worn a t-shirt with the words “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor” before a race and on the podium.
Hamilton started his racing career in F-1 14 years ago and was the first driver of colour in the sport. Today he remains the only Black driver on the circuit.
Hamilton won his record-tying seventh world championship this season but never changed his focus from promoting social change, diversity and raising awareness on key issues.
– Marcus Rebelo
When Los Angeles Sparks’ Chiney Ogwumike opted out of the WNBA’s 2020 season in the Bradenton, Fla., bubble it was for two reasons: to heal her body and to fight for social justice.
She took that second reason to heart.
Ogwumike has been a vocal member of the LeBron James-led More Than a Vote organization encouraging American citizens to register to vote, and providing them the resources to do so.
Ogwumike then turned that message into action. When it became clear younger poll workers were needed during the pandemic to replace the more vulnerable elderly volunteers, she stepped up herself. She joined her two sisters, including fellow WNBA all-star Nneka Ogwumike, as election workers in Houston, an effort that was even recognized by former President Barack Obama.
– Alexis Allison
Throughout the pandemic, Marcus Rashford has dazzled both on and off the field. As the United Kingdom went into lockdown, the Manchester United star worried not about himself as he is today — a multi-million dollar athlete — but as the kid he once was, dependent upon the state for his meals.
Recognizing the effect that school closures would have on those in need, the 23-year-old launched a public campaign to end child poverty. The tidal wave of support he received helped convince British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, not once, but twice, to alter his policies and pledge nearly $ 300 million to help low-income families struggling as a result of COVID-19.
– Ignacio Estefanell
While the NHL and its players have been accused of being tone deaf in the past with regards to social issues, Matt Dumba helped change that perception with his speech before the beginning of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“For those unaffected by systematic racism or unaware, I’m sure that some of you believe that this topic has garnered too much attention during the last couple months. But let me assure you, it has not,” the Minnesota Wild defenceman said.
The speech (and his kneel that followed) was a powerful message on hockey’s biggest stage.
– Rob Pizzo
Slightly forgotten in the midst of athlete protests against racism is one of the people who helped start it all. After first taking a knee during the U.S. national anthem in 2016 to protest police brutality, Kaepernick was ostracized and effectively blacklisted from the NFL.
Four years later, taking a knee was the dominant image of the Black Lives Matter movement across sports worldwide. The NFL finally invited all 32 teams to sign Kaepernick (even though he still hasn’t been), league commissioner Roger Goodell said he wished the league listened more when Kaepernick first took a knee, and the movement he started went from a powerful, public stance to something more tangible.
He started the “Know Your Rights Camp Legal Defence Initiative” to provide legal aid to people affected by police brutality.
– Steve Tzemis
In a year of great challenges, the greatest was (and still is) the coronavirus pandemic. The Montreal native tackled that challenge head-on. Just weeks after helping Kansas City win the Super Bowl by protecting the NFL’s biggest star, quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the aspiring medical doctor gave up his high-profile job (and his multi-million-dollar salary) to help protect our most vulnerable people — those in long-term care homes. Offensive line to front lines: doesn’t get any more inspiring than that.
– Jesse Campigotto
WNBA / Maya Moore
Social activism isn’t anything new in the WNBA. Maya Moore, arguably the best player ever, led her Minnesota Lynx in protest after the police killing of Philando Castile in July 2016 — two months before Colin Kaepernick first kneeled. It’s no wonder, then, that the WNBA’s players have been leaders as people around the world organized to protest racial injustice following the police killing of George Floyd in May.
Floyd’s death came as the WNBA was preparing to play out its season from a bubble in Florida. The WNBA offered players a chance to opt out of the season to pursue their cause and still get paid in full.
Four players, including Moore, took that opportunity. The rest of the league protested from the bubble. The season was dedicated to Breonna Taylor, killed by Louisville police in March, with a rallying cry to arrest those responsible.
“Black Lives Matter” was written on the courts and jerseys. Atlanta Dream players publicly endorsed team owner Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s opponent Raphael Warnock in a Georgia senate race after Loeffler questioned the Black Lives Matter movement. That race was so close it’s headed to a runoff in January. Players refused to play after Jacob Blake was shot.
As for Moore? In her second straight season off, she accomplished her goal of freeing Jonathan Irons, a wrongfully accused man serving a 50-year sentence, from prison. Moore and Irons were married in September.
– Myles Dichter
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