The protests by professional sports players in the United States during “The Star-Spangled Banner” have spread since NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick sparked the controversial movement in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in August by refusing to stand for the anthem before games. The protests have spread, with other NFL players joining in as well as sportspeople from soccer and volleyball.
On October 1, the anthem protests against racism spread into basketball — and Canada — when members of the Toronto Raptors NBA team locked arms in solidarity during the playing of the Canadian and US national anthems. The Raptors lined up on the court with their arms locked together as the NBA preseason opened in Vancouver, with Toronto hosting the Golden State Warriors. The protest by the Raptors, the NBA’s only Canada-based franchise, was the first at a sporting event where both the US and Canadian anthems are played before the start of a game.
Protesting sportspeople are seen as allies of the Black Lives Matter movement, which grew in response to high-profile police killings of unarmed African-Americans across the United States over the past two years. As well as support, the protests have provoked anger among some fans, who see them as a sign of disrespect for the US flag and the military. Raptors player DeMar DeRozan, who was part of the United States gold medal-winning basketball team at the Rio Olympics, said ahead of the anthem protest that a close friend had been murdered when he was shot 17 times by police.
Raptors coach Dwane Casey said he had told his players that if they protested to “do it from the heart, don’t do it just for the sake of doing something or saying something”. The protests — ranging from sitting during the anthem to kneeling on one knee, raising a fist or linking arms in solidarity — recall the famous protest by US athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos during a medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. On the podium, Smith and Carlos raised their fists in a symbol of support for the Black Power movement.