2018 NASSS Annual Conference
Sport Soundtrack: Sport, Music, & Culture

Sarah Fields

University of Colorado - Denver
From Passports to Anthems:  American Courts and Athlete Activism

Athletes have long used their platform to speak out against injustice.  In 1950 Paul Robeson, the former Rutgers multisport athlete, lost his passport because he had spoken against the racism in the United States (US) and in support of the more inclusive ideology of Communism.  In 1967 Muhamad Ali was sentenced to prison for refusing induction in the Army during the Vietnam War.  In 1969 the Black 14 were dismissed from the University of Wyoming football team because they had worn black armbands to protest the racist policies of the Church of Latter Day Saints.  In 2011, Rashard Mendenhall lost his endorsement contract with Hanesbrands after tweeting concerns that Americans were celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden.  In each case these activists turned to the US courts to remedy their own injustices; they relied on various legal grounds with various degrees of success.  After examining the published legal decisions through the lenses legal theories such as legal realism and critical race theory, this paper argues that the courts are an unreliable source of protection because of their own biases and cultural limitations.  This conclusion does not bode well for Colin Kaepernick’s collusion lawsuit against the National Football League.