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NFL national anthem ‘standing’ policy highlights decades of protests by black athletes

St. Louis/East St. Louis native Harry Edwards is a renowned sociologist, specializing in sports protest.
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The NFL on Wednesday announced that it would require players to stand during performances of the national anthem or remain in the locker room.

The announcement stems from a protest that former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started in 2016, when he kneeled during the anthem. Other players followed suit.

Protests during sporting events, however, are a decades-long tradition.

One such iconic sports protest occurred during the 1968 Olympics when American medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos denounced racism by raising their gloved hands in a Black Power salute.

Harry Edwards, a prominent sports sociologist and professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, was the driving force behind the 1968 Olympic protest. The native of East St. Louis is also an expert in the history of protesting during sports, particularly by black athletes.

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, we aired an excerpt of a conversation host Don Marsh had with Edwards in February 2017 about historic protests and present-day protests during NFL games.

The excerpt of that conversation follows. The entire conversation is available here.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex HeuerEvie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.