Six Times Sports Boycotts Got Results

Athletes fighting for social change boycotted events and made history.

The history books have yet to be written on the decision to relocate Major League Baseball’s 2021 All-Star Game from Georgia to Colorado, but here are some of the other prominent sports boycotts that helped move the ball forward on equality.

MLB All-Star Game in Denver, Colorado

See more NBCLX coverage of the politics surrounding the 2021 MLB All-Star Game:

Why the MLB All-Star Game Was Moved—And How Much Money Georgia Lost

Brad Raffensperger Wants to Set Another Record Straight: Why MLB Snubbed Georgia

1961 - Bill Russell Boycotts Lexington

The Boston Celtics, in the middle of a run of eight straight championships, were in Lexington, Ky. for an exhibition game, when future Hall-of-Famer Bill Russell and four other Black players refused to play after they were denied service at a local coffee shop. Their boycott made national headlines, and helped build momentum leading up to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

1965 - AFL All-Star Game Leaves New Orleans

Similar treatment of 21 Black players upon arrival in New Orleans for the AFL All-Star Game prompted a Russell-like boycott. But this time, many of their white teammates joined them, and within a day, the league moved the entire game to Houston.

1973 - Billie Jean King at the U.S. Open

The two-time defending women’s champion at the U.S. Tennis Open threatened to skip the 1973 tournament over disparities in prize money between men’s and women’s winners. Her actions sparked immediate action, as the Open became the first grand slam to offer equal pay that same year.

1993 - The Super Bowl Leaves Arizona

The NFL relocated it’s 1993 Super Bowl to California after Arizona voters rejected a Martin Luther King Jr holiday in 1990.  But after the decision, voters flipped and approved the holiday in 1992. The NFL returned to Tempe, Ariz. for the Super Bowl in 1996.

2015 - Mizzou Football Refuses to Play

Amid complaints of racism & hate crimes on-campus, the University of Missouri football team stood together, refusing to play or practice until the university’s president stepped down. He resigned one day later.

2017 - NBA Ditches Charlotte

The NBA pulled its all-star game out of North Carolina in response to HB 2, known as “the bathroom bill,” which made it easier to discriminate against LGBTQ citizens. The boycott helped stymie similar bills in other states, before prompting North Carolina lawmakers to undo most of the law themselves.  The NBA returned to Charlotte in 2019.