Before Richard Sherman: 7 Other Athletes Who Spoke Up Against Bigotry


If you like sports, you should like Richard Sherman for a number of reasons:

1. He’s really good at what he does. He is a Pro Bowl cornerback on a defense that, in my estimation, is one of the best ever. He is only 25, and will undoubtedly get better at his position, meaning that he could very well be one of the best-ever players at his position — if he isn’t already.

2. He was salutatorian at his high school, then he went to Stanford. He may have sounded like a jerk when he told Skip Bayless, “I’m better at life than you,” but at least in terms of academics, Richard Sherman is technically better than a lot of us.

3. Athletes’ post-game interviews tend to yield the same boring,”We just want to win” or “We played hard and so did our opponents” or “We gave it all we got” or “I just want to thank God” sort of babble. What Richard Sherman said about Michael Crabtree after the Seahawks defeated the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday was not only totally off-script, but it was the kind of thing that most of us would secretly like to tell someone.

While you’d imagine an intelligent, interesting, and overall great athlete would be the toast of the sports world, Richard Sherman has been turned into Public Enemy #1 and called a lot of shitty things. So what did Sherman do? He stood up for himself, explaining that being called a thug bothered him so much because, “Everybody else says the n-word and then they say ‘thug’ and they say, ‘Oh, that’s fine.’ That takes me aback. It’s kind of disappointing, because they know.”

Sherman’s right. And because of that, he’s earned a place among the many athletes who have spoken out against bigotry in one for or another. Here are a few inspiring examples.

“I would like to speak to him personally and … ask him, after you’ve met me personally, do you still feel in this category that I’m still a ‘ho’ as a woman and as a black, African-American woman at that?” — Then-Rutgers University (and current New York Liberty) basketball player Kia Vaughn‘s response to Don Imus calling her team “nappy-headed hoes.”

“I came to feel that if I, as a Jew, hit a homerun, I was hitting one against Hitler.” — Detroit Tigers slugger Hank Greenberg

“The majority of the journalists covering us at the time weren’t black. So if we talked trash or had some street to our game and they came in our locker room and we were listening to hip-hop, they didn’t take it as we were listening to Public Enemy or NWA or Geto Boys. They took it as we were the Geto Boys! They took it literally, because they were hearing it all for the first time.” — Jalen Rose on how the media portrayed Michigan’s Fab Five

“I wanted to use sports for social change.” — Billie Jean King

“Hating people because of their color is wrong. And it doesn’t matter which color does the hating. It’s just plain wrong.” ― Muhammad Ali

I wanted to use sports for social change. Read more at wanted to use sports for social change. Read more at wanted to use sports for social change. Read more at

“After I came home from the 1936 Olympics with my four medals, it became increasingly apparent that everyone was going to slap me on the back, want to shake my hand or have me up to their suite. But no one was going to offer me a job.” — Jesse Owens

“Some will ask if the NFL has a problem with institutionalized homophobia. I don’t think it does. I think there are homophobic people in the NFL, in all positions, but that’s true for society as well, and those people eventually get replaced. All we can do is try to expose their behavior when we see it and call them to account for their actions.” — Former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, who believes he was fired from his job for standing up for gay rights