50 photos of the sports world showing support for Black lives

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August 4, 2021
Al Bello // Getty Images

50 photos of the sports world showing support for Black lives

If progress is born from many small moments in the margins cresting into a public sea change, the impact of Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem during the 2016 football season presaged and charted the course for the huge wave of athletic activism seen in 2020 and carrying through to 2021.

When Kaepernick protested police brutality and racism with a peaceful protest, he incited a harsh backlash and wasn't signed back to the San Francisco 49ers after the season ended. Five years later, players are not only kneeling, but speaking out about systemic racism with calls for action to end police brutality and systemic racism, building on and adding to Kaepernick's earlier activism.

Kaepernick wasn't the first athlete to use his platform to peacefully protest racist violence—or the first to be punished for it. Muhammad Ali was perhaps the first Black athlete of the modern era to risk his career and white approval for standing up for what he believed in, refusing to be drafted into the Vietnam War on religious and ethical grounds. He was subsequently banned from boxing and stripped of his titles, losing his income. Ali set the groundwork for future protest, showing athletes what could be gained—and potentially lost—with political activism.

Ali likely influenced two sprinters: Tommie Smith and John Carlos, whose protest was captured in the now-iconic photo of the athletes holding raised fists while the national anthem played during the 1968 Olympic Games. They sought to bring attention to the plight Black Americans faced against structural racism in the U.S. To do this, they wore socks but no shoes to symbolize poverty of African Americans, and black gloves on their raised fists to symbolize unity. The third man in the photo, Australian Peter Norman, joined Smith and Carlos in wearing a human rights badge. They were expelled from the Games and faced harassment and ostracism when they returned home. Reflecting on the protest in Smithsonian Magazine, Carlos said, "We had to be seen because we couldn't be heard."

In 1996, NBA's Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf refused to stand for the national anthem, calling the flag a "symbol of oppression, of tyranny." He was suspended from playing until agreeing to stand for the anthem with his eyes closed.

These are only a few of the most notable examples of 20th-century athletes on the forefront of peaceful political protest. Kaepernick brought the legacy into the 21st century when he kneeled during the national anthem during his 2016 games, bringing national attention to inequality in America. "People are dying in vain because this country isn't holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody. That's something that's not happening," he told media when it was noticed he wasn't standing for the anthem. "This is because I'm seeing things happen to people that don't have a voice, people that don't have a platform to talk and have their voices heard, and effect change. So I'm in the position where I can do that and I'm going to do that for people that can't."

His protest resulted in being all but blacklisted from the NFL. But it also resulted in wider recognition of police brutality in America, and the backlash among white team owners and politicians—Donald Trump said his protest was "a terrible thing" and that "he should find a country that works better for him"—highlighted the reality of how angry and uncomfortable peaceful protest makes some people in America.

Other athletes followed Kaepernick's example in 2016 and 2017. First teammate Eric Reid joined him. Then other football players across the NFL refused to stand, including Jeremy Lane of the Seattle Seahawks; Brandon Marshall of the Denver Broncos; and Arian Foster, Michael Thomas, Kenny Stills, and Jelani Jenkins of the Miami Dolphins. Marcus Peters of the Kansas Chiefs and Martellus Bennett and Devin McCourty of the New England Patriots held up fists. Soccer player and Olympic winner Megan Rapinoe kneeled during the national anthem in solidarity with Kaepernick. High school teams started to kneel, then university players and cheerleaders, and then even more NFL players kneeled or stood with raised fists during the anthem. The entire Indiana Fever women's team kneeled, bringing Kaepernick's protest to the WNBA. In 2017, Seth DeValve of the Cleveland Browns became the first white player to kneel during the anthem.

And so the activism and strikes that swept the sports world after the police shootings of George Floyd and Jacob Blake in 2020 didn't come out of nowhere. Along with massive demonstrations that took place across every state in the U.S. (and quite a few countries around the world), athletes, in particular Black athletes, drew on both recent and more distant history. And while it can be argued that owners and corporate sponsors are commodifying the movement—the NFL releasing statements against racism is, after all, the very same institution that blacklisted Kaepernick for kneeling during the national anthem—the widespread messaging that Black Lives Matter shows how players are pushing their institutions toward change, using their power and influence to force a reckoning at the national level.

Stacker attempted to capture the player activism, dissent, and messaging with 50 photos showing how the sports world, and some specific teams and athletes, have shown support for Black lives.

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German soccer players supports Black Lives Matter

Soccer player Serge Gnabry, a midfielder for Bayern Munich, wears an armlet reading Black Lives Matter in solidarity with protests across the U.S. as he warms up before a match on June 6, 2020. His team, FC Bayern Munich, all wore the armbands in solidarity with protestors in the U.S. reacting to the police killing of George Floyd.

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Bubba Wallace calls on NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag

Bubba Wallace, the driver of the #43 McDonald's Chevrolet, wears a T-shirt reading "I Can't Breathe Black Lives Matter" under his fire suit during the national anthem prior to a NASCAR race. Wallace, who is the only Black driver in NASCAR’s top racing series, has vocally supported the Black Lives Matter movement and called on the NASCAR organization to ban Confederate flags at its events. Two days later, NASCAR did just that.

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Baseball players boycott games after Jacob Blake is shot by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin

When the Milwaukee Bucks boycotted their game in protest of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in nearby Kenosha, it set off a chain reaction in the sports world. Pictured here is the empty Oracle Park stadium, where home team San Francisco Giants were to play the Los Angeles Dodgers on Aug. 26, 2020. Instead, the teams postponed their game and issued a joint statement that read, “Throughout our country’s history, sport has been a powerful vehicle towards change. The Dodgers and Giants proudly join our players in the shared goal for a more equitable and just society.”

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Soccer players kneel in solidarity in Denmark

Danish teams FC Nordsjalland and Fortuna Hjorring kneeled in solidarity with the Black Lives Matters protests on June 6, 2020, in Farum, Denmark. Pictured in the foreground is Brianne Reed, an American currently playing for FC Nordsjalland, who organized both teams to kneel after the death of George Floyd and subsequent nation-wide protests. “I explained that as a member of the Black community this was something that has been on my heart the past few weeks,” she wrote, noting that she felt it was important for the Danish teams to kneel because “racism is not just a problem in the U.S., but a global problem as well.”

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Nicola Bennett brings Black Lives Matter to the golfing world

Nicola Bennett, a professional golfer, wears a hat in support of Black Lives Matter during The Rose Ladies Series on July 30, 2020, in Barnet, England. "You don't see many people from BAME [Black Asian and Minority Ethnic] backgrounds out on the course, and I think there are a couple of reasons for that, both social and economic," Bennett told Women & Golf. "I hope that I can be an example and role model for Black girls and female golfers and demonstrate to them that things are changing and progress is being made."

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Brace Hemmelgarn // Getty Images

MLB players unite around Black Lives Matter

Baseball’s 2020 Opening Day witnessed professional baseball’s entrance into the kind of political player statements that had long been the norm in other professional sports. Current and former Black baseball players formed a nonprofit called the Players Alliance, and some teams kneeled for 60 seconds before the national anthem played. Pictured is the Black Lives Matter base during a game between the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox on July 24, 2020, at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago.

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Philadelphia 76ers players kneel and protest

Philadelphia 76ers players kneel in honor of the Black Lives Matter movement during the national anthems prior to an NBA game against the Toronto Raptors on Aug. 12, 2020. While the NBA’s board of governors announced the creation of the NBA Foundation, pledging $300 million to "create greater economic empowerment in the Black community,” players have taken more direct action, like Sixers players joining protests and Mike Scott and Tobias Harris calling for the arrest of the police who shot and killed Breonna Taylor.

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MLB sanctions time for teams to kneel

On Opening Day the coaches and players for the Washington Nationals and the New York Yankees held a long black cloth and kneeled for 60 seconds of silence. They stood for the national anthem. The MLB has been less engaged than other sports leagues in protesting police violence, though the Milwaukee Brewers followed the Bucks in August, refusing to play a scheduled game after the shooting of Kenosha, Wisconsin’s Jacob Blake by police. Pictured are members of the Washington Nationals kneeling and holding the black ribbon.

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NBA players negotiate activism with COVID-19 bubble

A Black Lives Matter banner is seen in front of AdventHealth Arena at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on Aug. 27, 2020. Players pushed back against the “bubble,” the socially distant protocols allowing the season to play out in Florida, for the hampering effect on their activism efforts.

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Quarterback Tom Brady calls for an end to police immunity

Tom Brady signed a petition calling on Congress to end police immunity—one of 1,400 athletes, coaches, managers, and other staffers across the NFL, NBA, and MLB. Qualified immunity shields police officers from misconduct, making it nearly impossible to hold the police accountable for violence and unwarranted killing. Pictured is Tom Brady wearing a helmet with "End Racism" stamped on it before a game against the Carolina Panthers on Sept. 20, 2020.

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Basketball players support Black Lives Matter on and off the court

Basketball players have protested police violence on the court and off. On Juneteenth, Washington Wizards’ Bradley Beal and Natasha Cloud, a player for the Washington Mystics, led many of their teammates in a protest against police brutality. In this picture, the Washington Wizards players stand behind a Black Lives Matter logo on the court before an NBA basketball game against the Phoenix Suns on July 31, 2020.

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Surfers protest police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor

The Black Surfers Association has organized surfers to protest police violence. On Aug. 22, they paddled the distance of 13 blocks, representing the date, March 13, that Breonna Taylor was killed. “We don’t want to do just the typical paddle out,” said Lou Harris, the founder of the East Coast Chapter of Black Surfers Association. “Those 13 blocks that you paddle, it’s going to make you think how she was asleep in the house, dying for no reason.” The Association had previously paddled the equivalent of eight blocks to protest the killing of George Floyd—one block for each minute that police kneeled on his neck, causing him to asphyxiate. Pictured is a drone shot of the surfers paddling out from Rockaway Beach in New York on Aug. 22, 2020, to protest the killing of Breonna Taylor by police.

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Austrian soccer shows support

Austrian soccer player David Alaba took the opportunity of his team’s win to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Many athletes outside of the U.S. have shown support by protesting, kneeling, and wearing clothing supporting Black lives. In this photo, Alaba kneels next to the UEFA Champions League Trophy following his team's victory in the final match on Aug. 23, 2020.

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Race car driver Lewis Hamilton brings Black Lives Matter to British racing

British racing champion Lewis Hamilton is the first and only Black driver in the history of Formula One, the international racing sport. The 2020 racing season sees him attempting to win his seventh championship, which would tie him for the record. He unveiled a new helmet for the season, with Black Lives Matter on the front and the text on the back, which had previously read “Still I Rise,” tweaked to “Still We Rise.” He is pictured here as he celebrates winning the F1 Grand Prix of Spain on Aug. 16, 2020.

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Hockey players join the anti-racism initiative

Pictured here is "End Racism" displayed on the scoreboard prior to Game Three of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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Major League Baseball United For Change and Black Lives Matter patches

The MLB has existing partnerships with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the Jackie Robinson Foundation and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. And after the killing of George Floyd by police, the MLB launched new initiatives with the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. In this photo, the patches are pictures on the sleeve of a New York Mets jersey prior to the game against the Atlanta Braves on July 24, 2020.

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Cricket players take a knee

Though the cricket stadium was empty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, players took a knee and raised a fist in support of the Black Lives Matter movement prior to the start of the third Test cricket match between England and the West Indies on July 24, 2020.

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Black Lives Matter signage in Louis Armstrong Stadium

In another game played without spectators because of the pandemic, tennis players and officials took advantage of empty seats to stretch two Black Lives Matter signs across swaths of vacant seats in Louis Armstrong Stadium in Queens, New York City. Pictured here is Angelique Kerber of Germany playing Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia during their Women's Singles first-round match on Day One of the 2020 US Open.

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Black Lives Matter sign at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium

After the police shooting of Jacob Blake, the Baltimore Ravens released a strongly worded statement on Twitter, the first NFL team to break ranks with the blander official line and make explicit demands, including the arrest of those who shot Blake and those who shot and killed Breonna Taylor, as well as the demand that Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell allow the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 to be brought to a vote in the Senate. In this photo, Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens waits for the snap in front of a Black Lives Matter sign on Sept. 28, 2020.

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US Open highlights 18 Black and BIPOC artists

As part of its "Be Open" initiative, the US Open selected 18 Black and BIPOC artists to contribute to an art installation put front and center in the Arthur Ashe Stadium on Day One of the 2020 US Open on Aug. 31, 2020.

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Manchester United fans display an anti-racism banner

Pre-pandemic, Manchester United fans display an anti-racism banner prior to the Premier League match between Manchester United and Crystal Palace on Aug. 24, 2019.

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Pittsburgh Pirates unfurl Black Lives Matter banners

The Pittsburgh Pirates unfurled large, segmented Black Lives Matter banners on a walkway inside PNC Park. The team tweeted “Use your platform. Make a difference” when it went on display. It’s pictured here prior to the Major League Baseball game between the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates on Sept. 5, 2020.

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WNBA leads activism in the sports world

The WNBA, long on the forefront of athlete activism, opened their season with games dedicated to victims of police brutality, with jerseys displaying Breonna Taylor’s name. Pictured here is Layshia Clarendon of the New York Liberty, guarded by Aerial Powers of the Washington Mystics, with Black Lives Matter emblazoned on the court on Aug. 7, 2020.

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Milwaukee Brewers strike after police shooting of Jacob Blake

After the Milwaukee Bucks went on strike to protest the police shooting of Wisconsin resident Jacob Blake in August, the Milwaukee Brewers followed suit, canceling their game with the Cincinnati Reds. The teams put out a joint statement reading: “The players from the Brewers and Reds have decided to not play tonight’s baseball game. With our community and our nation in such pain, we wanted to draw as much attention to the issues that really matter, especially racial injustice and systemic oppression.”

Later, baseball players added Black Lives Matter language to their fields and jerseys, as seen on this Milwaukee Brewers player during warm-ups before the MLB game between the Chicago White Sox and the Milwaukee Brewers on Aug. 5, 2020.

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"End Racism" becomes NFL-wide messaging

Despite the NFL's blacklisting of Colin Kaepernick for protesting American racism, the league entered the Black Lives Matter movement with the message to "End Racism" printed on field end zones. Pictured here is the message printed in the end zone at SoFi Stadium during the game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Los Angeles Rams on Sept. 13, 2020.

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Detroit Lions players kneel during the national anthem

In a more pointed gesture, several Detroit Lions players took a knee during the national anthem, while others stayed in the locker room. The kneeling during the national anthem echoes Colin Kaepernick’s protesting of racism in 2016, when his kneeling was met with widespread derision and a lack of support from the NFL. Pictured here is Detroit Lions players kneeling during the national anthem before the first quarter at Ford Field on Sept. 13, 2020, in Detroit.

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Shoes, clothing bears anti-racism messaging

Athletes have been able to tailor parts of their uniforms for causes in the past, like when pink highlights adorned jerseys and gear to raise awareness of breast cancer. Jerseys, helmets, shoes, and other accessories were outfitted with Black Lives Matter messaging. In this photo, Devin McCourty of the New England Patriots wears custom cleats before a game against the Buffalo Bills.

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Women’s club soccer kneels in the movement for Black lives

Women’s soccer players wore shirts in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and kneeled prior to a game between Utah Royals and Houston Dash on June 30, 2020. The Utah Royals had recently ended its contract with coach Craig Harrington. Investigators looked into the Utah Royals organization over sexism and racism.

Earlier, players issued a statement that read in part, “We’ve had enough. Enough of the racist systems excluding Black and brown people. Enough of sexist stereotypes infiltrating conversations about our talents and achievements as athletes. Enough of a work environment that is not open and includes for all.”

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Major League Soccer players join movement for Black lives

A Jumbotron at the top of Red Bull Arena says "Black Lives Matter" with a raised fist during the Major League Soccer match between New York City FC and Columbus Crew SC at Red Bull Arena on Aug. 24, 2020. Earlier in August, the New York City FC announced a partnership with the Jackie Robinson Foundation. In July Red Bull’s CEO and CMO were fired after a racist presentation slide was leaked.

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Police killing of Keith Lamont Scott

Demonstrations protesting the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott surged in the streets and around the Bank of America Stadium before an NFL football game between the Charlotte Panthers and the Minnesota Vikings Sept. 25, 2016, in Charlotte, North Carolina. Inside the stadium, Carolina safety Marcus Ball raised his fist while the national anthem played.

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Players take messaging into their own hands

While sports organizations have allowed players to sport Black Lives Matter on their attire, other options are mostly tepid and non-confrontational, as evidenced by some NBA players refusing to wear the social justice messages approved by the NBA. The players are working instead through their union to partner with Honor the Gift, player Russell Westbrook’s clothing line, to produce attire with more explicit language.

Examples include “I Can’t Breathe,” “No Justice No Peace,” “Am I Next?” and “By Any Means.” The names of victims of police violence will also be on the shirts. Pictured here is Westbrook wearing a Black Lives Matter jersey on Aug. 2, 2020.

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Colin Kaepernick’s legacy of activism

When Colin Kaepernick kneeled before playing the Philadelphia Eagles in Lincoln Financial Field in 2016, some fans, pundits, and politicians decried him. But in 2017 supporters showed up in solidarity with Kaepernick, holding signs outside the stadium and keeling during the anthem, pictured here on Sept. 24, 2017.

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College football players join activism

While some of his Syracuse Orange teammates opted for “Equality” to adorn their jerseys, JaCobian Morgan was the only member of his team to choose "Black Lives Matter" for his jersey. College athletes are heavily involved in activism and protest.

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Seattle Sounders seek to use platform for good

The Seattle Sounders wore Black Lives Matter T-shirts and sounded off on what it means to them on their website. Pictured here is a banner supporting Black Lives Matter in the stands during an MLS match between the Seattle Sounders and LAFC on Sept. 18, 2020.

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Boston Red Sox player wears BLM shirt

Xander Bogaerts of the Boston Red Sox wears a Black Lives Matter shirt during batting practice before the Opening Day game against the Baltimore Orioles on July 24, 2020. Some of the players took a knee during the national anthem.

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Black Lives Matter in high school sports

Pictured here in 2016, Watkins Mill Wolverines quarterback Markel Grant pulled up his jersey to show the Black Lives Matter T-shirt under his jersey and pads as he warms up before a high school football game. He, other Watkins Mill Wolverines players, and members of their opposing team kneeled during the national anthem, following the example of Colin Kaepernick and similarly making waves for both their activism and the backlash against it.

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Women’s soccer wears Black Lives Matter gear

In June, the Washington Spirit team tweeted about taking a knee during practice in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Pictured is Meggie Dougherty Howard of Washington Spirit's armband supporting the Black Lives Matter movement during a game against the North Carolina Courage on July 1, 2020.

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Jackie Robinson's legacy

Aug. 28, 2020, was the day the MLB paid tribute to Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play in the League’s modern era. Players went beyond a symbolic tribute when the Houston Astros and the Oakland Athletics walked off the field after a moment of silence. In addition to placing Robinson’s #42 jersey across the home plate, players added a Black Lives Matter T-shirt to reinforce the protest against America’s ongoing racism.

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LeBron James calls for real change

LeBron James has been one of the most vocal players in the sports world, demanding the arrest of the police who shot and killed Breonna Taylor and calling more broadly for action to follow words of support in the Black Lives Matter movement. He’s pictured here looking on before the game on Aug. 24, 2020.

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National Hockey League's Matt Dumba kneels

Matt Dumba, a player for the Minnesota Wild of the National Hockey League, was the first pro hockey player to kneel during the national anthem in protest of police brutality. Pictured here is a shot from the same game, when Dumba spoke surrounded by "End Racism" signs on Aug. 1, 2020.

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Red Sox display Black Lives Matter sign

A Black Lives Matter sign, using the team’s font, was placed by The Red Sox Foundation behind the Fenway Park Green Monster and the Landsdowne Garage in Boston on July 22, 2020. The Red Sox released a statement acknowledging the team’s and city’s history of racism and white players and fans casting racial slurs at players and employees, and vowing to address systemic racism.

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Players honor African American players from the Negro Leagues

Shut out of minor and major baseball leagues because of white racism, Black—and to some extent, Latino—players formed their own baseball teams in the 19th century. While integration post-WWII led to players of color joining the previously all-white Major League Baseball teams, racism is still a problem in baseball more than 60 years later. White players outnumber others and the MLB was the last major sports organization to speak out against police brutality with a tepid statement. Pictured here are the cut-outs of African American players from the Negro Leagues displayed on Aug. 29, 2020.

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Naomi Osaka highlights murder of Ahmaud Arbery

During the U.S. Open, tennis player Naomi Osaka wore seven different face masks for each round of the annual tournament. Each mask, which she started wearing when the tournament began on Aug. 31, 2020, named a Black person whose death has been repeatedly cited in nationwide protests about racial injustice.

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Minnesota Twins highlight George Floyd, killed by police in Minnesota

Pictured is special assistant LaTroy Hawkins of the Minnesota Twins standing in front of a banner honoring George Floyd and other victims of police brutality while wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt. Floyd was killed in Minneapolis by police on May 25, 2020.

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Major League Soccer teams support Black Lives Matter

A Black Lives Matter banner hangs in the empty stands during the Major League Soccer match between New York City FC and Columbus Crew SC on Aug. 24, 2020.

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Chicago Red Stars’ Casey Short and teammate kneel

Chicago Red Stars players Casey Short and Julie Ertz kneel during the playing of the national anthem prior to a game against the Washington Spirit in the first round of the NWSL Challenge Cup at Zions Bank Stadium on June 27, 2020. Short tweeted about the need to commit to change.

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Fenway Park scoreboard reads Black Lives Matter

A "Black Lives Matter" message is displayed on the Green Monster scoreboard in response to the shooting of George Floyd by police. Protests against police killing and violence erupted across the country, including in Boston.

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Minnesota Twins wear Black Lives Matter patch

A Minnesota Twins and Black Lives Matter patch against the Chicago White Sox on July 24, 2020, at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Black Lives Matter patch was one of the options officially sanctioned to wear on jerseys by the MLB.

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Kevin Reza highlights lack of solidarity in cycling world

Kevin Reza of France wears a No To Racism mask during the 107th Tour de France on Sept. 20, 2020, in Paris. “There isn't a lot of solidarity in cycling,” Reza told Cycling News, recounting past racist harassment from cyclists Michael Albasini Gianni Moscon.

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Dan Istitene - Formula 1 // Getty Images

Lewis Hamilton brings attention to the race car world

Lewis Hamilton, the first and only Black race car driver in Formula One, wears a T-shirt displaying Black Lives Matter in support of the movement to end racism before the Formula One British Grand Prix at Silverstone on Aug. 2, 2020.

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