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8 Athletes Explain Why Their Protest Matters

Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, center, and his teammates warm up before an NBA basketball game against the Sacramento Kings
Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, center, and his teammates warm up before an NBA basketball game against the Sacramento Kings, Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014, in Los Angeles. Several athletes have worn "I Can't Breathe" shirts during warm ups in support of the family of Eric Garner, who died July 17 after a police officer placed him in a chokehold when he was being arrested for selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

John Carlos had been waiting a long time for Kenny Britt and Kobe Bryant.

The former U.S. Olympian, along with Tommie Smith, became synonymous with athlete activism by raising a gloved fist in a Black Power salute while on the medal stand at the 1968 Olympics. In the decades since that galvanizing gesture, athlete activism waned, seeming to exist in inverse proportion to rising salaries and increased marketing opportunities.

“How about those Rams? They may be under contract to play football, but greater than that, they have a right to care about humanity," Carlos told Dave Zirin of The Nation in December after a group of St. Louis Rams players, including Britt, showed solidarity with those protesting in Ferguson, Mo., following the lack of an indictment following the police killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager.

"They have the right to feel whether something is just or unjust. They are entitled to their opinions, most centrally that Michael Brown’s life should not have been taken. Asking them to just ‘shut up and play’ is like asking a human being to be paint on the wall. They have the right to say what they feel in their heart. A lot more athletes need to step up and speak up as well. These atrocities have been going on and we are saying enough is enough. I remember saying in 1968, you think I’m bad, just wait until this new generation comes out. I feel like that new generation is here at last.”

Hall of Fame football player Jim Brown, another outspoken athlete activist, also took note of the increased social consciousness among athletes toward the end of 2014.

"The thing that I feel most about is the emerging of young players that are intelligently protesting what they feel are injustices," Brown told The Associated Press in December.

From Kenny Britt and Kobe Bryant to LeBron James and Reggie Bush, here are several athletes explaining why they chose to stand with protestors in Ferguson, New York and across the country:

  • Kenny Britt
    St. Louis Rams players Stedman Bailey (12), Tavon Austin (11), Jared Cook, (89) Chris Givens (13) and Kenny Britt (81) raised
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    St. Louis Rams players Stedman Bailey (12), Tavon Austin (11), Jared Cook, (89) Chris Givens (13) and Kenny Britt (81) raised their arms in the "Hands up, don't shoot" gesture when taking the field before a game on Nov. 30. Britt explained his motivation for suggesting the gesture to teammates.

    From NJ.com:
    We just wanted to let the [Ferguson] community know that we support them. I don’t want the people in the community to feel like we turned a blind eye to it. What would I like to see happen? Change in America.
  • LeBron James
    LeBron James and Cleveland Cavaliers teammate Kyrie Irving wore 'I Can't Breathe' T-shirts during pre-game warmups before a g
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    LeBron James and Cleveland Cavaliers teammate Kyrie Irving wore 'I Can't Breathe' T-shirts during pre-game warmups before a game in Brooklyn against the Nets on Dec. 8.

    From ESPN:
    It's just for us to make a [statement] to understand what we're going through as a society. [...] I've been quoted over and over about what's going on as far as it's more of a notion to the family, more than anything. Obviously, as a society we have to do better. We have to be better for one another. It doesn't matter what race you are. It's more of a shout out to the family more than anything, because they're the ones that should be getting all the energy and effort.
  • Johnson Bademosi
    Cleveland Browns cornerback Johnson Bademosi wore a shirt with the words "I Can't Breathe" before a game against the Indianap
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Cleveland Browns cornerback Johnson Bademosi wore a shirt with the words "I Can't Breathe" before a game against the Indianapolis Colts on Dec. 7. He later explained his decision in an essay published at The Monday Morning Quarterback:

    From MMQB:
    My T-shirt was a tribute to the life of Eric Garner and to the countless black men victimized by our country’s never-ending hegemony, and an expression of the feelings that my teammates and I felt while we were discussing these issues. Others had their own ways of supporting the cause, keeping it in their thoughts, prayers, etc. and I fully support that as well. Ultimately, every individual has to do what is best for himself and his family. I’m not losing any sleep over my decision.
  • Derrick Rose
    The Chicago Bulls' point guard became the first NBA player to wear an 'I Can't Breathe' T-Shirt during pre-game warmups on De
    Issac Baldizon via Getty Images
    The Chicago Bulls' point guard became the first NBA player to wear an 'I Can't Breathe' T-Shirt during pre-game warmups on Dec. 6.
    From Bleacher Report:
    I'm a parent now [...] I had a kid two years ago. It probably would have been different [before my son was born]. I probably wouldn't have worn the shirt. But now that I'm a dad, it's just changed my outlook on life, period. I don't want my son growing up being scared of the police or having the thought that something like that could happen. I have a cousin, that easily could have been him, or that easily could have been one of our relatives. It's sad that people lost their lives over that.
  • Reggie Bush
    Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush wore a shirt with "I can't breathe" written on the front, during pre-game warmups on D
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush wore a shirt with "I can't breathe" written on the front, during pre-game warmups on Dec. 7.

    From ESPN:
    It's just a terrible situation, you know what I mean. It's just unfortunate that this is still happening and that it is still going on and it affects everybody. It doesn't just affect me, it affects everybody and we're all in this together.

    I just wanted to wear that on my shirt.
    From CBS Detroit:
    Obviously people are going to have some negative comments and not agree with you, and that’s okay. [...] I don’t live my life for everyone to agree with me. Obviously with stuff like this I know that people are going to have their own opinions, and people should. Everybody should have their own opinions, and everybody’s entitled to their opinions and how they feel about the situation and about what’s going on, and for me, I felt like this was my way of protesting peacefully, and this is coming from the son of a police officer. My mother’s been a police officer for 20 years now.
  • Andrew Hawkins
    Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins wore a T-shirt calling for "Justice For Tamir Rice And John Crawford III" durin
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins wore a T-shirt calling for "Justice For Tamir Rice And John Crawford III" during pre-game warmups before a game on Dec. 14. His T-shirt drew heavy criticism from Cleveland Patrolmen's Association President Jeffrey Follmer. On Monday, Dec. 15, Hawkins shared a poignant response to the criticism with reporters:
    I was taught that justice is a right that every American should have. Also justice should be the goal of every American. I think that’s what makes this country special. To me, justice means the innocent should be found innocent. It means that those who do wrong should get their due punishment. Ultimately, it means fair treatment. So a call for justice shouldn’t offend or disrespect anybody. A call for justice shouldn’t warrant an apology.
    [...]
    As you well know, and it's well documented, I have a 2-year-old little boy, the same 2-year-old little boy that everyone said was cute when I jokingly threw him out of the house earlier this year. That little boy is my entire world. And the No. 1 reason for me wearing the T-shirt was the thought of what happened to Tamir Rice happening to my little Austin scares the living hell out of me. And my heart was broken for the parents of Tamir and John Crawford knowing they had to live that nightmare of a reality. So, like I said, I made the conscious decision to wear the T-shirt. I felt my heart was in the right place. I'm at peace with it.
  • Brandon Meriweather
    A group of Washington defensive players, including safety Brandon Meriweather, took the field for a preseason game with their
    Getty
    A group of Washington defensive players, including safety Brandon Meriweather, took the field for a preseason game with their hands raised in tribute to Michael Brown on Aug. 18.

    From USA Today:
    We just wanted everybody to know that we support Michael and acknowledge what happened in Ferguson. Crazy things happen every day in this world. [...] It was all of ours idea, something we decided to do as a group just to show our support.
  • Kobe Bryant
    Kobe Bryant and most of his Los Angeles Lakers teammates became the latest group of NBA players to wear "I Can't Breathe" T-s
    Noel Vasquez via Getty Images
    Kobe Bryant and most of his Los Angeles Lakers teammates became the latest group of NBA players to wear "I Can't Breathe" T-shirts during pre-game warmups on Dec. 10.

    From The Associated Press:
    You're kind of seeing a tipping point right now in terms of these social issues. [...] It's become at the forefront now, as opposed to just being a local issue. It's something that's carried over and spilled into mainstream. ... You don't just see African-Americans out there protesting. It's not something that you just see in the United States of America. It's become a global thing.

    They're really questioning the justice system and questioning the process of the legal system, and those who have authority and whether or not they're abusing authority, and what's the threshold to use deadly force and so forth. [...] But that's what our nation is founded on. We have the ability to question these things in a peaceful fashion, and that's what makes us a great country, is we have the ability to voice up. We have the platform to speak up, and we have the platform to affect change"
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