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The Pioneers: Two Black women whose legacies of sports activism live on

Wyomia Tyus stands on the podium after winning gold in the 100m at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. (Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images)

Before Colin Kaepernick took a knee, and even before Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists on the Olympic podium, Rose Robinson refused to stand during the national anthem in 1959. Nine years later, Wyomia Tyus wore dark shorts in a protest for human rights at the 1968 Olympics.

Just Women’s Sports is celebrating Black History Month by highlighting the achievements of African-American women who not only excelled in their sport, but also changed the landscape of society. Male athletes are often remembered for historical and contemporary acts of activism, yet there is a long history of Black women taking a stand and using their platform for political and ideological protest.

While we remember iconic firsts — Black women who broke the color barrier — as symbolic acts that prompted societal change (for example, Althea Gibson, the first African-American to win a Grand Slam, and Wilma Rudolph, the first American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympiad), the stories of two courageous women who engaged in remarkable displays of activism have largely been forgotten.

Rose Robinson’s life of activism

Born in Chicago in 1925, high jumper Eroseanna “Rose” Robinson rose to prominence in the 1950s after achieving success on the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) track circuit. Upon winning the 1958 AAU National Championship she was named to the U.S. Women’s Track and Field team.

Shortly thereafter, her predominantly Black team was invited to compete in the Soviet Union at a State Department track meet during the height of the Cold War. Robinson refused to attend, telling Jet Magazine: “I don’t want to be used as a political pawn.”

Robinson’s public refusal to promote U.S. foreign policy came at a time when Black athletes, musicians and other notable figures were paraded around the globe to counter the image Jim Crow cast on America.

This was not the first time Robinson had challenged injustice. As a leader in her local chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), Robinson led skate-ins throughout the 1950s to desegregate a popular roller skating rink in Cleveland.

In the summer of 1959, less than a year after she rejected the invitation to compete in Russia, Robinson attended the Pan American Games, where more than 2,000 athletes from 24 different nations came together to compete. When “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played at the opening ceremony, the crowd inside Soldier Field rose to their feet, but Rose Robinson defiantly remained in her seat.

Robinson is considered to be the first prominent American athlete to use such a tactic.

Her protest drew the attention of the media, as well as the federal government. Six months later, Robinson was arrested on charges of tax evasion. At her hearing, Robinson refused to pay her taxes due to her objection to American military practices.

“I have not entered my tax return for 1954-1958 because I know a large part of it goes to armaments,” she told Jet Magazine at the time. “The U.S. government is very active in atom bombs and fallout, which is destructive rather than constructive. If I pay income tax, I am participating in that destruction.”

Robinson was sentenced to a year and a day in jail over the amount of $386.

Imprisonment did not stop Robinson’s activism. While in jail, she staged a hunger strike, refusing all food and drink for three months. Robinson became so weak that officials had to carry her to court for her hearing. The judge offered to commute her sentence if she paid the fine, but still, Robinson refused to support the U.S. war machine.

Her protest drew national attention leading to Robinson’s early release, but the hunger strike weakened her body so much that her track career was effectively over. Robinson continued with her activism until she died in 1976.

Wyomia Tyus: A woman long overlooked

When Carl Lewis won his second consecutive gold medal in the 100m at the 1988 Olympics, he was celebrated as the first person to accomplish such a feat — 20 years after Wyomia Tyus had actually done it first.

In the summer of 1968, Wyomia Tyus set out to defend her 100m title at the Olympics in Mexico City. Tyus ran an 11.08, set a world record and became the first athlete, male or female, to win back-to-back 100m titles.

Tyus, the daughter of sharecroppers, ran her history-making race in dark blue shorts — the closest she could find to black — as opposed to the team-issued white shorts.

Two days before Tommie Smith and Jon Carlos raised their black-gloved fists in what would become an iconic image, Tyus protested, though news outlets did not make note of what she did. Tyus, who grew up in Jim Crow Georgia, was taking a stand against the treatment of Black people in America.

“The shorts were at the forefront of my whole being to bring attention to human rights, whether anybody picked that up or not,” Tyus told the New York Times last year while reflecting on her gesture.

Prior to the Olympics, the Olympic Project For Human Rights held meetings to discuss ways athletes could take a stand. Women, however, were not invited.

Thus, Tyus fashioned her own protest without telling anyone. She wore her dark shorts again in the 4x100m final. When she won, she briefly raised her fist on the victory podium and then dedicated her medal to Smith and Carlos, who were barred from the Olympics after their show of defiance.

It was until her memoir, “Tigerbelle,” was published in 2018 that the public became aware of Tyus’ long and courageous history of activism.

Mariah Lee is a professional athlete and freelance writer who specializes in the intersection of race and sports. She holds a B.A. from Stanford University and a M.S. from the Wake Forest School of Business. Follow her on Instagram @merdashewrote.

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

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