Four times sports unified the United States amid Civil Unrest

by Daniel Olsen

There have been many tragedies that have happened to our nation and the state of Utah has done its best to join in uniting for that purpose. Right now in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and the riots following the murder of George Floyd, many people in the United States are missing out on something that has the potential to unite our nation: sports.

1. Martin Luther King Jr:

Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. His peaceful protests brought an end to segregation laws at the time. The following year BYU and Wyoming had a football game on October 18, 1969. This became known as the Black 14 game. 14 African American Players sat out the game to protest the racial epithets they had heard in a game the year before from BYU fans. There was also the LDS Church policy at the time that excluded African American men from receiving the Priesthood (that policy was discontinued in 1978). Wyoming beat BYU 40-7 on that Fall afternoon in War Memorial Stadium.

5d9cbd5b8db5a.imageThese 14 Wyoming players were kicked off the team when the coach found out they were protesting. They wanted to play the game with black arm bands but the coach said that was against the policy so he wouldn’t allow it. There was still a good deal of racism even after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. However, his legacy inspired a new generation in the sports world to speak out against social issues.

2. Rodney King Riots

On March 3rd, 1991 Rodney King was badly beaten by a group of police officers. It got a lot of headline news and there was a lengthy trial to decide the verdict. It took over a year to decide the fate of those police officers. Some games in LA were postponed and even relocated after the cops were found not guilty on April 29, 1992 and the Rodney King Riots began. 

unnamedAt the time of the Rodney King riots in LA, the Utah Jazz were playing the LA Clippers in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. On the night the verdict was announced, the 8 seed LA Lakers won a thriller over the Portland Trailblazers in which Terry Porter hit a three to force overtime. The final score was 121-119. The day prior, the Jazz lost Game 3 to the Clippers by 10 in the LA Memorial Sports Arena.

Both Game 4 matchups were relocated due to civil unrest in Los Angeles. Both games were scheduled to be played on May 3rd. The Jazz, ahead 2-1 in the series, would play the 7 seed Clippers in the Anaheim Convention Center. It was their first playoff series since they moved from San Diego to LA in 1984. The Jazz lost by 8 points in that Game 4 to send the series back to their newly built Delta Center for a deciding Game 5.

The Lakers would have to re-locate Game 4 to the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas. They lost to the eventual Western Conference Champions by 26 in the deciding Game 4.

The Utah Jazz and Portland Trailblazers both advanced over the LA teams and would eventually face each other in the Western Conference Finals with the Trailblazers winning in six games before losing to Michael Jordan’s Bulls in the NBA Finals. The LA Clippers fought hard though while being led by their star Danny Manning. It was the second biggest story in Los Angeles with the riots happening at the same times as the unrest in the intense NBA Playoff Games.

3. September 11, 2001

Smoke-flames-twin-towers-attacks-World-Trade-September-11-2001Following the senseless attacks by terrorists on the Twin Towers in New York City, the sports world came to a halt. The MLB and NFL cancelled all games the upcoming weekend and college football followed suit. That meant that BYU, Utah State and Utah all did not play on their scheduled games on Saturday, September 15th. It was a weekend to mourn the losses of thousands of people who were killed in the attack.

BYU re-scheduled their September 15th game with Mississippi State to December 1st and moved Hawaii (originally scheduled on December 1st) to December 8th. The show went on and BYU had a great 12-2 season despite disappointing losses to Hawaii and in the Liberty Bowl to Louisville.

The Aggies had a date with Fresno State on September 15th and also had to take a rain check. They also re-scheduled for December 1st but probably wished they wouldn’t have after taking a 70-21 beating to the 21st ranked Bulldogs team. They finished a disappointing 4-7 as an Independent football team.

The Utes ironically cancelled their game at Air Force and re-scheduled for December 1st. Air Force is one of the three flagship military institutions that protects the United States. Our country at that point needed to mourn the loss of many who died in the attacks and the Utes would lose an emotional game by one point.

Overall, it was an emotional year for many and it brought the country closer together than it had been for a long time.

4. 2020

A makeshift memorial honoring George Floyd in MinneapolisSince the outbreak of COVID-19 there hasn’t been a lot of sports which has been hard for many fans out there. The murder of George Floyd by a cop in Minneapolis has our country divided more than ever before. While it takes more than sports to unite the country entirely, it has proven to be a great unifier in the past. It is a great escape from the real world. The NBA especially has been vocal in helping with issues like these in the past. We live in a world filled with tragedies happening every day. If we are united then we can get through these tough times.

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