If it wasn't for their union, apartheid might have prevailed in South Africa far longer than it did and racial equality in the United States might still be simmering on the back burner.
Boycotts and protests may never be welcomed but they sometimes achieve their objective, and Nelson Mandela once testified and Tommie Smith and John Carlos still maintain.
Which brings us to us to Glasgow 2014. While in the end, there was nothing disturbingly politicised about the 20th Commonwealth Games there is little doubt that, inadvertently or otherwise, the cause of Scottish independence been enhanced by their unquestionable success.
When polling day comes on September 18 the lingering feel-good factor surely will play a critical role.
I have a Scottish son-in-law, a Glaswegian himself, who is vehemently opposed to separatism (well he does live in Surrey!), but he now reluctantly acknowledges that because of the Games many hitherto uncommitted voters, particularly the young, will tick the "yes" box in the belief that Scotland is now a nation capable of running its own affairs as capably as Glasgow did the Games.
As it happens we were spared First Minister Alex Salmond doing the Braveheart bit - or the Saltire-waving Highland Fling - because he didn't have to say a word. Glasgow's superbly efficient organisation and Scotland's own record medal haul spoke volumes for his cause.
The city's professional presentation, welcoming geniality and all-round competence, said all that was necessary to ensure Glasgow 2014 was a mini replica of London 2012.
But were these really "the best Games ever" as declared by Malaysia's ebullient Commonwealth Games Federation President Prince Imran when doing a Samaranch at the closing ceremony?
Maybe, though Manchester and Melbourne might demur, with the latter arguably edging it because of the weather.
But Glasgow did itself and Scotland proud, and, if they are still bothered about being part of us, Great Britain too.
Whether the need for independence has been irrevocably enshrined as a result will be determined on the political podium in the coming referendum.
Salmond's deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, suggests the Games have provided a perfect platform for the yes campaign, invigorating the belief that Scotland now has the potential for going it alone in the world - as well as the next Olympics.
One wonders what one man who kept an anxious lookout for any political hijacking of the Games thinks about that. Sir Craig Reedie, another Glaswegian who is an International Olympic Committee (IOC) vice-president, needed to see strict adherence to the IOC rule - and that of the Commonwealth Games Federation - that the Games must not be manipulated as a political vehicle.
Reedie, 73, finds himself in a tricky situation. A former chair of the British Olympic Association, a principal architect of a successful London 2012 and now president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, he is known to be opposed to Scottish independence yet wearing his IOC hat would be expected to help expedite Scotland's wish to compete as an separate nation in Rio 2016 should the referendum be affirmative.
Such an eventuality would need to be fast-tracked by the IOC but precedence suggests they may be compliant as they were with Montenegro for Beijing 2008.
We shall see. Meantime, while we laud the Games for what they were, let's not lose all sense of perspective and be as ridiculously carried away as the BBC were throughout the 11-day carnival.
BBC? More like OTT.
Some of the commentary box eulogising and obsequious trackside interviewing was positively cringe-making, so much so that the usual Skyperbole we have to endure whenever Premier League football is on the satellite channel seemed under-stated by comparison.
The supply of patronising superlatives from Gary Lineker, Hazel Irvine, Clare Balding and co was inexhaustible..."Amazing...astonishing...astounding." And that was just the start of a breathless lexicon in which every home nations bronze medal was heralded it as if the recipient had won the lottery.
Thank goodness for the measured baritone wisdom of Michael Johnson on athletics and the thoughtful ringside summaries of Amir Khan at the boxing arena.
Not that the public gave a hoots.
They were there to cheer the talent, not evaluate it. And why not?
They didn't seem to much care what they were watching. This was their party and they were determined to enjoy it.
There is a video clip of an American TV quiz now doing the rounds on YouTube in which a presenter demands of the audience: "What the f.... are the Commonwealth Games?"
They are then lampooned as "an off Broadway version of the Olympics" and we are informed: In America we don't know what the hell they are?"
Not that it matters what the most insular breed on earth think of them.
More to the point, let us not be seduced here by our own TV into believing we witnessed a sporting epic, because judged by the true standards of elite sport, it was not the case.
Enjoyable, yes; a great show, most certainly. But these were not the Olympics or a World Championships, or anywhere near them in the majority of sports with the US, Russia, China, Japan and continental Europe missing.
How many world records were broken? How many of the 100 metres line-up, for example, would actually have got into an Olympic final?
Yet the essence of the Commonwealth Games is not to celebrate super-stardom but to offer a platform for sport's little people from little places on the global map, like the Solomon Islands, Tonga and Gibraltar.
Who cares if they were lapped three times on the Hampden track? These Games were for them as much as the fistful of sporting powerhouses.
They were also for sports such as netball, bowls and squash (ironically one where the best players in the world actually compete at Commonwealth level) who are left waiting in the wings when the curtain is raised at the Olympic theatre every four years.
Ok, there were some brilliant individual performances but by and large standards in most disciplines were at best moderate.
But moderate is hardly an adjective that could be affixed overall to a magnificent Scottish showpiece, which, insignificant it may be soulless Uncle Sam, may have helped create a whole new political ball game as well as being a timely reminder that sport can be fun, as well as Games.
Alan Hubbard is an award-winning sports columnist for The Independent on Sunday and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered a total of 16 Summer and Winter Games, 10 Commonwealth Games, several football World Cups and world title fights from Atlanta to Zaire.