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The original anthem protest: How sport has changed since 1968

The original anthem protest: How sport has changed since 1968

It is the silent protest which has turned into a global talking point.

And it is the silent protest which triggered US president Donald Trump to call for every player involved to be fired.

But it is also one that has echoes to what started as one of the most infamous moments in sport but went on to become one of the most celebrated – the 1968 Olympics black power salute.

On that day, 200m running gold and bronze medallists – Tommie Smith and John Carlos– raised their gloved hands in protest during the Star Spangled Banner.

Also on the podium was Australian Peter Norman.

For his part, joining them by wearing a human rights badge on his team tracksuit, Norman would be ostracised from Australian sport.

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But despite the similarities between the silent stand in 1968 and now, Norman’s nephew, Matt Norman, sees one big difference.

“What’s being shown, and it’s been quite remarkable, is the CEOs and managers of these sporting clubs have actually stood beside these players to say what they are doing is their right,” he told nine.com.au.

“That shows that we have come somewhere, because back in Peter’s day, nobody supported what Peter did.”

For his show of solidarity Norman was blacklisted; not allowed to compete at the Munich Games in 1972 despite qualifying and not invited to the Sydney Olympics decades later.

But Smith and Carlos never forgot. When Norman died in Melbourne in 2006,  they served as his pallbearers.

Matt Norman was so inspired by his uncle’s courage and frustrated by the way he was treated that he made a documentary, Salute, about his story.

“One of the things that most people have not understood about Peter’s story was because he wore a badge in support of black America, back then a white guy standing up for black rights wasn’t a cool thing to do,” he said.

“So it was a much bigger deal in those days.”

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The Olympic salute happened the same year as the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Robert F Kennedy, both committed campaigners for civil rights.

Trump created a firestorm of controversy when he called for NFL players who knelt during the anthem to be sacked.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired!'” Trump said at a rally in Alabama on Friday.

“You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired’. And that owner, they don’t know it. They don’t know it. They’ll be the most popular person, for a week. They’ll be the most popular person in this country.”

A week before Trump’s remarks, only six players in the National Football League had taken part in the silent protest.

In the days following, more than 200 NFL players took a knee.

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They were joined in some instances, by the team owners.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who donated more than a $1 million to Trump’s inauguration, took a knee in solidarity with his players on Monday.

“The comments made by the president were divisive and counterproductive to what our country needs right now,” said Houston Texans CEO Robert McNair, another Trump donor.

Another previous Trump fan, New England Patriots CEO Robert Kraft, said: “I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the president on Friday”.

The kneeling protest was started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who wanted to draw attention to the disproportionate amount of police brutality faced by black men.

Kaepernick initially sat on the bench during the anthem in protest, but nobody noticed.

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Former NFL player and Green Beret Nate Boyer then advised him that he should kneel as a more respectful gesture.

“Soldiers take a knee in front of a fallen brother’s grave, you know, to show respect,” Boyer told CBS.

“When we’re on a patrol, you know, and we go into a security halt, we take a knee, and we pull security.”

Kaepernick’s kneeling saw him become a pariah, and he was not picked up by another NFL club when he became a free agent.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour,” he said after the game.

“To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.”

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He was soon joined by teammate Eric Reid.

“That’s when my faith moved me to take action. I looked to James 2:17, which states, ‘Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead,'” Reid wrote in a New York Times opinion piece.

“I knew I needed to stand up for what is right.”

The Washington Post reported in 2015 that unarmed black men were seven times more likely to be killed by police than their white counterparts.

The killings of unarmed men like Philando Castile in MinneapolisMichael Brown in FergusonEric Garner in New York City, as well as the exoneration of the officers responsible, galvanised protests that became the Black Lives Matter movement.

Singing the national anthem before US sporting fixtures has been a long tradition, but the players only began taking the field for the song in 2009.

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