The recent flashpoint of Colin Kaepernick taking a knee renews a long tradition of athlete-activists speaking out against racism, injustice, and oppression. Like Kaepernick, Jackie Robinson, Paul Robeson, Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos—among many others, of all races, male and female, pro and amateur—all made the choice to take a side to command public awareness and attention rather than “shut up and play,” as O. J. Simpson, Michael Jordan, and Tiger Woods did. Using their celebrity to demand change, these activists inspired fans but faced great personal and professional risks in doing so. It Was Always a Choice traces the history and impact of these decisive moments throughout the history of U.S. sports.
David Steele identifies the resonances and antecedents throughout the twentieth century of the choices faced by athletes in the post-Kaepernick era, including the advance of athletes’ political organizing in the era of activism following the death of George Floyd. He shows which athletes chose silence instead of action—“dropping the baton,” as it were—in the movement to end racial inequities and violence against Black Americans. The examples of courageous athletes multiply as LeBron James, Megan Rapinoe and the activist-athletes of the NBA, WNBA, and NFL remain committed to fighting daily and vibrantly for social change.
About the Author
David Steele has been a professional sports journalist for more than 35 years. He has written for the Sporting News, AOL, the BaltimoreSun, the San Francisco Chronicle and Newsday, and has contributed to ESPN’s The Undefeated, USA Today and the NAACP’s The Crisis magazine. He is the co-author of Silent Gesture: The Autobiography of Tommie Smith (Temple) and of Four Generations of Color, the autobiography of pioneering baseball scout and sports agent Miles McAfee. He has won writing awards from the National Association of Black Journalists, the Association of Black Media Workers, the Associated Press Sports Editors and the Society of Professional Journalists. A graduate of the University of Maryland at College Park, he serves on the advisory board for the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism at his alma mater.