Rating some of the most high-profile examples of possible “blackballed athletes” in recent years.

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(ThyBlackMan.com) The Encyclopedia Britannica Online Dictionary defines the word “blackball” as “to prevent (someone) from joining a group, club, etc., by voting against him or her”. Playing in a major professional sports league is a significant achievement that only the best athletes in the world are able to achieve but there are some professional athletes historically who may have been “blackballed” and prevented from starting or continuing their professional careers for one reason or another.

Former Chicago Bulls guard Craig Hodges was one of the better shooters of the 1980s in the NBA. He also was a contributor on two NBA championship teams, the 1990-91 Chicago Bulls and the 1991-92 Chicago Bulls. Unfortunately, he never played for another team in the NBA after the 1991-92 NBA season. When the Chicago Bulls visited the White House after winning the 1992 NBA Championship, Hodges made a “controversial” decision after the 1991-92 NBA season as he wore a dashiki, and handed then President George H.W. Bush a letter that asked him to do more to end injustice toward the Black community.

Craig Hodges would later file a lawsuit against the NBA after being unable to land an offer or a tryout with an NBA team after his actions in the White House. Although Hodges was 32 years old in the summer of 1992, he shot a solid 37.5 percent from three-point range during the 1991-92 season yet never was signed by another NBA team and there is a longstanding notion that his outspoken political words and actions led to him being blackballed by NBA teams.

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Former NBA guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf became known in 1996 for his protest during the playing of the national anthem before NBA games.  Abdul-Rauf sat during the song, stating then that the American flag was a symbol of oppression and went against his religion of Islam, before working out a compromise with the NBA of praying instead. While his protest often brings up thoughts that he was blackballed, Abdul-Rauf did play two more NBA seasons following his initial protest, then retired and finished his NBA career playing one final season with the then-Vancouver Grizzlies.

Since the days of Hodges and Abdul-Rauf in the 1990s, there have been some notable athletes that could be put into the category of being “blackballed”, completely understanding that it is very difficult to prove that an entire sports league is preventing an athlete from playing. Here are three recent examples of athletes (in chronological order) in which the word “blackballed” could be applied with ranking from 1 to 10 with 1 being “No way that the athlete was blackballed. They are a minor league talent.” to 10 being “They were clearly blackballed and are way better than half the athletes currently in their sport.”

  • NFL Quarterback Colin Kaepernick (last played in NFL in 2016)-Kaepernick is the most high- profile example of a pro athlete being potentially “blackballed” from their sport. By now, most Americans know the story of Kaepernick regarding his protest during the national anthem against police brutality back in 2016 and how he has not been signed by a team since that season ended. He has had a long, highly-publicized journey since he last played which included filing a grievance against NFL owners accusing them of collusion, reaching a confidential settlement with the NFL, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell apologizing to Kaepernick indirectly in 2020, and Kaepernick getting a workout with the Las Vegas Raiders in 2022. It is very hard to prove he was “blackballed” but there are several indicators that he was clearly good enough as a QB to play in the NFL during the time he missed. Rating: 8
  • NBA center Enes Freedom (last played in NBA during 2021-22 season)-Most NBA fans know Enes Freedom as being a quality backup big man bringing interior scoring off the bench. He is not on an NBA team as the 2022-23 NBA season approaches and back in March implied that his outspokenness about China has cost him a job in the NBA due to the NBA’s financial relationship with China. In an March interview with the New York Times, Freedom said, ““It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize why I got little playing time and was released. But it does take people with a conscience to speak out and say it’s not right.” Unsurprisingly, NBA commissioner Adam Silver has strongly denied Freedom’s claims. It’s early in terms of Freedom’s unemployment and while his NBA production declined in 2021-22 there are some interesting claims he makes. Rating: 7
  • NBA guard J.R. Smith (last played in NBA during 2019-20 season)-Smith’s NBA career was full of highs and lows which included winning the 2012-13 Sixth Man of the Year award and two NBA championships, one with the Cavaliers during their historic 3-1 comeback against the Warriors in 2016. He is also known for one of the biggest blunders in NBA Finals history. During an interview earlier this month with Complex, Smith says he, Jamal Crawford, Isaiah Thomas, Nick Young and Joe Johnson have been blackballed from the NBA. This claim of being blackballed was prompted by an interviewer’s question as Smith remarked, “Yeah, 100 percent. Anybody can sit here and tell you that that’s a fact.” Another fact is that Smith was 34 years old during his last NBA season with the Lakers and shot less than 30 percent both from the field and three-point range. No reason to blackball him. Rating: 2

Staff Writer; Mark Hines

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