This Day in History

Oct. 20 or 27, 1968: NFL Player Dave Meggyesy Refused to Salute Flag During Anthem

Time Periods: 1961
Themes: Imperialism, Sports, Wars & Related Anti-War Movements
A floral collage with Dave Meggyesy, Colin Kaepernick, and Tommie Smith and John Carlos, all athletes who protested for social justice.

Illustration by Kagan McLeod. Source: SportsNet

In October 1968 — as opposition to the Vietnam War and institutional racism mounted in the streets — St. Louis Cardinals NFL linebacker Dave Meggyesy disobeyed league rules and refused to salute the flag during the pre-game playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” This was nearly fifty years before San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem in a 2016 NFL game to protest police violence.

As quoted in this SportsNet article, Meggyesy later wrote of the event:

I’d thought [saluting the flag] was ridiculous. Every time I even looked at it, I saw only a symbol of repression, so I decided to protest. My original idea was to pull a Tommie Smith by raising my right fist in the air and bowing my head. Instead, I decided not to salute the flag. Continue reading.

Rather than the media outcries and public displays of support that followed Kaepernick’s act of protest, in 1968, Meggyesy’s brave stand for justice and peace gained little attention. He resigned from the NFL the following year, published a best selling autobiography — Out of Their League — in 1970, and later co-founded Athletes United for Peace.

The son of a union organizer, this was not Meggyesy’s first time mixing sports and politics. As reported by We’re History:

In 1966, he paid for buses to transport demonstrators to a peace march in Washington. During training camp in the late summer of 1969, he agitated against being served grapes picked by non-union labor. That September, he convinced thirty-seven teammates to sign a petition calling on the United States to withdraw from Vietnam, the public release of which so agitated Cardinals management that it forced him to apologize publicly to the team. Continue reading.

Watch the August 1970 Dick Cavett Show interview with Dave Meggyesy, who explains what prompted him to step away from a 7-year career with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Further Reading

Dave Meggyesy and the History of NFL Player Protests by Jesse Berrett (We’re History)

Kaepernick, Trump, and the N.F.L. in the Eyes of a Player Who Protested During the National Anthem Fifty Years Ago by Ben McGrath (The New Yorker)

Still on the Outside by David Remnick (Sports Illustrated)

“Things Have Changed But Things Aren’t Better” by Gare Joyce (SportsNet)

More Videos

In the following clip, Meggyesy talks about protesting the National Anthem.

In this clip below, Meggyesy talks about the dehumanizing aspects of football.

And below is a video called Rebel With a Cause: Dave Meggyesy.