How the sports world is honoring Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy

Across the United States, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. is being celebrated with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, an annual holiday celebrating his life and legacy. The commemoration of MLK Day includes multiple celebrations throughout sports, from the professional to collegiate ranks.

Here is a summary of notable games and events commemorating Martin Luther King Day, from traditional NBA matchups to initiatives seeking to continue King’s dream of racial equality in America.

The NBA will continue its decades-long tradition of games on MLK Day, with 11 games in total scheduled for Monday. That slate of games includes annual games in Atlanta, where King was born, and in Memphis, where King was assassinated in 1968.

In Atlanta, the Hawks will continue a tradition of hosting a gospel choir, which will sing the name of each player during pre-game introductions. Meanwhile, the Memphis Grizzlies will honor athletes who “have made “significant contributions to civil and human rights they have made through their careers in sports, in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” prior to their game against the Golden State Warriors. This year, the Grizzles will honor eight-time NBA All-Star Alex English, Pro Football Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome and former NFL running back Calvin Hill.

Prior to the beginning of Super Wild Card Weekend, the NFL announced a five-year commitment to Realizing The Dream, a platform created by Martin Luther King III, Arndrea Waters King and Yolanda Renee King to “unite more than seven million young people, 200,000 educators, and millions of employees around the globe through a series of service initiatives focused on the tenets of social change and community impact.” Over the next five years, the NFL and other corporations will work with the King family and Legacy+ to “help fulfill Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision for an equitable and united America.”

Each team playing during the weekend, and all four teams playing on MLK Day, will wear circular MLK helmet decals and “Be Love” helmet phrase decals, which will also be stenciled in one end zone. The King family has also provided PSAs to NFL teams in the playoffs to be integrated into their in-stadium game programming and amplification on media platforms.

For MLK Day, the Columbus Blue Jackets will host “Hockey Is For Everyone,” an event celebrating diversity and inclusion in the sport, at their game against the Vancouver Canucks. The event will include a pre-game activation before Ayodele Adeniye, a member of the Adrian College men’s hockey team that won the 2022 NCAA Division III Championship, drops the ceremonial puck for the game. Adeniye learned to play hockey through the Columbus Ice Hockey Club, one of 26 official Hockey is for Everyone grassroots hockey organizations across North America.

During the game and intermissions, the Blue Jackets will honor diversity among hockey participants including CIHC as well as Blue Jackets Hockey League (BJHL), Capital Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA), CCYHA Special Hockey (athletes with special needs), Central Ohio Girl’s Hockey (COGH), Central Ohio Gay Lesbian Ally Hockey Association, Chiller Adult Hockey League (CAHL), Columbus Chill Youth Hockey Association (CCYHA), Ohio High School Athletic Association, Ohio Sled Hockey (athletes with physical disabilities) and Ohio Warriors Sled Hockey (veterans with physical disabilities).

College basketball
Games and events honoring MLK Day are being held throughout college basketball, including in the Atlantic 10 Conference with its third-annual MLK Day triple-header. All three conference games will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network.

In the Ivy League, Harvard will host Brown for its first conference home game of the season. Harvard’s team has been active over the past several years in honoring MLK Day under the leadership of Tommy Amaker, the head coach of Harvard men’s basketball.

Dreamchasers Basketball Club has hosted a HBCU MLK Day Invitational throughout the weekend and leading into Monday, which will feature four HBCU Basketball games. The games are being contested primarily between HBCUs throughout the Carolinas, including Claflin University, Clinton College, Fayetteville State University and Johnson C. Smith University.

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