Rep. John Lewis, a champion of equality and civil rights and longtime Congressman, died Friday. Lewis, who announced in December he had been diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer, was 80.
Lewis was a key member of the civil rights movement and original Freedom Rider, leading sit-ins, voter registration drives and marches around the South. He was arrested at least 45 times, and he endured beatings at the hands of police in response to his efforts to stop segregation.
He helped put together the March on Washington — one of the most powerful demonstrations supporting Black lives in U.S. history — and delivered a speech at the landmark event. He went on to become a 17-term member of Congress and Medal of Freedom recipient.
Over the past few months, the U.S. has kept up an anti-racism movement with fervor rarely seen since Lewis entered the forefront of the fight for Black lives in the 1960s. A wave of nationwide protests initially sparked by the killing of unarmed Black man George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police has prompted millions to reckon with systemic issues of inequality in law enforcement and beyond.
Athletes have become active participants in the current Black Lives Matter campaign, in many cases risking their own privileged statuses in their push for change. NFL receiver Kenny Stills, for example, was arrested during a July 14 protest against the police killing of Breonna Taylor and handed a felony charge of intimidating a participant in the legal process as well as misdemeanor disorderly conduct and criminal trespass. The felony charge was dropped Friday, but Stills could still be subjected to the misdemeanor claims.
Elsewhere, players in recent seasons have put their jobs on the line by kneeling in protest of police brutality during the national anthem.
Admiration for Lewis and his social justice work, then, is incredibly strong in the sports community. Stills referenced Lewis in a social media post speaking out against his treatment earlier this week.
There has been an outpouring of love for Lewis among athletes after news of the lawmaker’s death emerged. Here’s what Lewis meant to some of the leading members of a current generation of activists:
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