Athletes establishing their 1st Amendment rights

By Tom Allon

If you ever doubted the importance of professional sports in the American imagination, last weekend’s events were a stark reminder that it is more powerful than ever.

All weekend, professional athletes exercised their First Amendment rights — and punched back at a wildly swinging President Donald Trump who questioned their patriotism — by kneeling, locking arms or remaining in the locker room during the playing of the national anthem. Further, some league champions refused to attend the traditional visit to the White House.

Watching football games Sunday reminded me of the rallies from the 1960s when conscientious objectors burned their draft cards in protest of the Vietnam War.

The NBA even got into the presidential scrum when superstars Stephen Curry and Lebron James dissed the POTUS. The King from Cleveland landed the most piercing blow when he replied to the president’s tweet about what an honor it is for championship teams to be invited to the White House.

“It was [an honor] until you became President,” wrote King James.


It is amazing to witness the ongoing ideological war manufactured by a president who really should be more focused on avoiding war with North Korea and figuring out how his dysfunctional party will ever get any of his agenda passed in Congress.

It is hard to know where this dust-up leads, but it sure is fun to watch athletes and football team owners kick back against the latest foolish tirade by Trump.

This weekend, a film opened that also reminds us of the power of sports — “The Battle of the Sexes,” a great tale set in 1973.

The film chronicles the early career of women’s tennis great Billie Jean King and her fight for equal rights for women in sport. It is an inspiring and encouraging story. King was unwilling to let the male-dominated U.S. Tennis Association pay women champions less than one-eighth of what men received.

King led a renegade group of women’s tennis players in forming a new league — the Women’s Tennis Association — so that they could try to achieve pay parity. They succeeded when a tobacco company funded the Virginia Slims women’s tour.

But even more dramatically, King soundly defeated a male chauvinist hustler named Bobby Riggs in the much-hyped “Battle of the Sexes.” Her win proved that women tennis players can, indeed, beat male tennis players. The event did more to advance the cause of women’s rights than our slow-moving government ever did.

King was a leading feminist and also became one of the first openly gay high-profile athletes, breaking barriers the provided a huge leap in American consciousness for gay rights.

Athletes are given a huge platform in our celebrity-loving society and it is great to see them use their status to expose the remaining injustices in American culture.

Tom Allon is the president of City & State.Reach him at tallo[email protected]yandstateny.com.

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