18 memorable and powerful sports boycotts

Bigger than sports...

Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports
Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Back in 2020, the Milwaukee Bucks and five other NBA teams boycotted playoff games in a protest for social justice. The powerful statement was one of a number of times athletes have been involved in boycotts.

1964 AFL All-Star Game

The 1964 All-Star Game boycott in New Orleans was chronicled by our Doug Farrar here.

Six months after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the American Football League was set to play its All-Star Game on January 16, 1965, at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans. This was 10 days after the stadium hosted the first completely integrated Sugar Bowl game without incident. But as the AFL players were to find out, incidents abounded upon their arrival.

1996 Indy 500

<em>Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports</em>
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

This would be considered more of an internal issue than a national one. The 1996 Indy 500 race was surrounded by months of controversy. Most of the top teams and drivers in Indy car racing chose to boycott the race, protesting a perceived lockout of CART teams by the IRL. Rival teams effectively staged a “walkout” and instead scheduled a competing race the same day, the U.S. 500 at Michigan. Participants in the 1996 Indy 500 included several familiar Indy car teams and owners such as A.J. Foyt, Dick Simon, Hemelgarn, and Menard. However, there were also many new teams, some of which moved up from Indy Lights, AIS, or sports cars. Many of the drivers were inexperienced rookies from an obscure range of backgrounds, giving the impression of a field of replacement drivers.

1976 Summer Olympics

<em>Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports</em>
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Twenty-nine countries, mostly African, boycotted the Montreal Games when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) refused to ban New Zealand, after the New Zealand national rugby union team had toured South Africa earlier in 1976 in defiance of the United Nations’ calls for a sporting embargo.

1980 Summer Olympics

The 1980 Summer Olympics boycott was one part of a number of actions initiated by the United States to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Many countries ultimately joined the USA in a full boycott of the Games. These included Japan and West Germany where Chancellor Schmidt was able to convince the National Olympic Committee (NOC) to support the boycott. China, the Philippines, Chile, Argentina and Canada also boycotted the Games entirely. Sixty-five countries that were invited to the 1980 Olympics, plus Qatar, did not participate for various reasons, including support for the boycott and economic reasons.

1984 Summer Olympics

<em>Porter Binks-USA TODAY Sports</em>
Porter Binks-USA TODAY Sports

The USSR announced its intentions to boycott the 1984 Summer Olympics on May 8, 1984, citing security concerns and “chauvinistic sentiments and an anti-Soviet hysteria being whipped up in the United States.” A USA official said the country had ignored suggestive comments by the Soviets in the weeks building up to the announcement and that, in spite of all the indications, the United States was “absolutely dumbfounded” when the official announcement arrived.  After the announcement, six more nations joined the boycott, including Bulgaria, East Germany, Mongolia, Vietnam Laos, and Czechoslovakia.

South Africa cricket tour of England - 1970

<em> Mitchell Gunn-USA TODAY Sports</em>
Mitchell Gunn-USA TODAY Sports

South Africa’s cricket team, widely considered to be the world’s leading Test nation, were due to visit England in the summer of 1970. However, after strong protests built up against South Africa’s apartheid regime, the series was canceled at short notice by the English Cricket Council.

US Grand Prix - 2005

<em>Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports</em>
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

During Friday’s afternoon practice session ahead of the US Grand Prix at Indianapolis, Toyota’s Ralf Schumacher crashed badly, reported to be as a result of rear-left tire failure. Michelin, which provided tires for seven of the 10 teams on the grid, advised the teams that their tires were not safe to use for the race. The F1 rules that season forbade tire changes, and after failing to agree to a compromise with the FIA, the seven teams lined up on the grid, but on the formation lap, the teams running with Michelin all retired to the pits, leaving just six cars to start the race.

South African Grand Prix - 1982

<em>Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports</em>
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Niki Lauda led a drivers’ strike at the first race of the 1982 season in Kyalami. The drivers protested against the new “super licenses,” required for participation in the championship, which Lauda believed would unfairly tie drivers to their teams. Most of the drivers locked themselves in a conference room overnight before the agreement was reached that the relevant clauses could be re-visited and the race was reinstated. However, after the race, the stewards backtracked and suspended the licenses of the drivers involved in the strike.

Wimbledon - 1973

<em> AELTC/Bob Martin via USA TODAY Sports</em>
AELTC/Bob Martin via USA TODAY Sports

To the despair of the All England Club and the British public, some of the biggest names in men’s game boycotted Wimbledon in 1973. The newly formed players’ union, the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) came out in support of Yugoslavia’s Nikki Pilic who was suspended by tennis’ governing body the International Lawn Tennis Federation (now the International Tennis Federation) over his non-appearance at a Davis Cup tie against New Zealand. The ATP announced that their members would boycott Wimbledon, and true to their word, 79 players refused to play. Although Britain’s Roger Taylor played, and 1972 finalist Ilie Nastase refused to withdraw, just three of the original 16 seeds remained.

University of Missouri football - 2015

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

After a series of incidents on campus raised racial tensions at the Columbia, Mo., school, more than 30 University of Missouri football players announced on Nov. 7 that they would not practice or play any games until University President Tim Wolfe, whose response to the incidents was widely criticized as insufficient, was fired. (Credit to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which chronicled these in 2016.)

Oklahoma University football - 2015

<em> Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports</em>
Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

With the support of coach Bob Stoops, Oklahoma football players walked out of a spring practice to protest a video that had become public of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity members chanting racist insults.

Minnesota State football - 2014

<em>Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports</em>
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota State players refused to take part in spring practice as a show of support for interim coach Aaron Keen, who had replaced coach Todd Hoffner (pictured) in 2012 when Hoffner was arrested and eventually fired after photos of his naked children were found on his cellphone. A district court judge cleared Hoffner of child abuse charges and ordered him reinstated, but the players balked when Hoffner arrived to take charge again. A day after boycotting practice, Hoffner met with the players, who agreed to drop their objections and return to practice.

Grambling State University football - 2013

<em>Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports</em>
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Upset over the firing of coach Doug Williams and the inferior condition of their training facilities and playing conditions, players at the historically black college skipped two practices to call attention to their plight. When the school didn’t immediately agree to upgrade their infrastructure and travel arrangements, only 22 players showed up to board buses for their game at Jackson State. The game was declared a forfeit.

Syracuse University football - 1970

<em>Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports</em>
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Nine African-American players, angry at discriminatory policies of coach Ben Schwartzwalder and his all-white coaching staff — among other thing, white players received better medical care and educational support, the players asserted, and preference in starting assignments — boycotted spring practice and announced their intention to skip the season opener against Kansas. Schwartzwalder responded by dismissing the players, incorrectly dubbed the “Syracuse 8,” white players staged a one-day walkout in support of the coach, and the game was played shortly after a violent confrontation between police and about 400 students.

Indiana University football - 1969

Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports

When 10 African-American players boycotted a November practice to call protest racist treatment and remarks from the coaching staff, coach John Pont told the “IU 10” that they would be kicked off the team if they didn’t immediately return. The next day, they were dismissed, missing the final three games of the season. The school and athletes reconciled in 2015.

University of Wyoming football - 1968

<em>Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports</em>
Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Oct. 17, 1969, the day before the BYU game, Coach Lloyd Eaton summarily dismissed Ron Hill, Jay Berry, and the 12 other African-American players on the Wyoming team when they appeared at his office as a group wearing black armbands on their civilian clothes. BYU is owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, better known as the Mormons. By wearing the armbands, the players were protesting the LDS policy then in force, which barred black men from the priesthood.

San Jose State football - 1968

<em> Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports</em>
Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

African-American players at San Jose State announced they would not take part in the team’s game with BYU in 1968. Protests erupted around campus, and the game was eventually played before an almost empty stadium.

Story originally appeared on List Wire