What she's doing is courageous and difficult, but in this community we respect one another's views, and whether I agree or disagree is irrelevant.
Manhattanville College President, Richard Berman
Sporting events have occasionally become proxy venues for political struggle. From cricket to rugby to soccer to the Olympics it is not always just national pride on the line, but the chance to strike a blow against colonialism, imperialism, discrimination or any ideology that might be associated with the opponent.
Perhaps the most famous of modern politicized sporting events was the Munich Olympics of 1972 where 9 Israeli athletes were killed by Black September - an Arab terrorist organization. The Olympics are a common forum for political statements. From black Americans and Hitler's dream of Aryan supremacy at Berlin in 1932 to Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising black-gloved fists at Mexico City in 1968 to Jimmy Carter ordering an American boycott of the 1980 Games in Moscow in retaliation for the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.
In 1997, Mahmoud Abdul Rauf, then of the NBA's Denver Nuggets, refused to stand during the American ritual of playing the national anthem before a sporting event. Rauf's stance was a religious one, but after 60 games his personal beliefs came under attack and the league suspended him. After consulting with Islamic elders, Rauf agreed to stand during the national anthem - while praying privately for an end to suffering humanity.
In a pose similar to Rauf's, during the 2002-2003 women's basketball season Manhattanville College senior Toni Smith has refused to face or look at the American flag during the playing of the national anthem.
Smith's stance has drawn numerous protests and she has been accosted both on and off the court, by both opposing players and fans -- including having midshipmen at the United States Merchant Marine Academy chanting at her to "Leave Our Country!"
For most of the season Smith performed her personal protest in silence - offering no reason for her refusal to salute the flag. But eventually Smith -- a team captain and sociology major -- released a written statement:
For some time now, the inequalities that are embedded into the American system have bothered me. As they are becoming progressively worse and it is clear that the government's priorities are not on bettering the quality of life for all of its people, but rather on expanding its own power, I cannot, in good conscience, salute the flag. The war America will soon be entering in has reinforced my beliefs.