Using Sport as a Platform to Protest

Today I planned to post about the future of football due to lockdown. I have decided to put that post on hold as there is a much more pressing issue at hand: the protests in the USA and justice for George Floyd and the many black people who have died before him at the hands of police brutality.

There are people much more qualified than me speaking about the ins and outs of the BLM protests and the fight for equality, but I did want to share some thoughts on sport being used as a platform to protest and why it is important. Sport has been a tool in the fight against racism for decades. Tommie Smith and John Carlos both raised a fist from the podium in the 1968 Olympics (and were both subsequently ostracised by the US sporting establishment). The third man on the podium, Australian Peter Norman, wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge in solidarity, and was never allowed to compete at an Olympics for Australia (who had a ‘White Australia’ policy at the time) again. 

More recently, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat through the national anthem before a pre-season game against the Green Bay Packers. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder,” he said. Initial statements from the San Francisco 49ers appeared to respect his decision and right to free speech. Not much was thought of it, and the following week, Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem.

One protest, one knee changed Kaepernick’s life forever. The fallout was huge. He was booed during the game and there was massive public outcry. The message had been twisted into showing disrespect for soldiers and the flag. 

Kaepernick was not alone though. Eleven other players joined him in Week 1 of the season and he had support from parts of the public. The issue was discussed by some friends and I who play NFL fantasy football, all of us agreeing with him using the platform he was given to raise awareness.

Kaepernick’s story does not end well. He was kicked out of the NFL, essentially blacklisted from playing again. Trump famously shouted, “Get those sons of bitches off the field” in response to the protests, further ramping up support against the protest from the far right (who, frankly, are not known for their open-mindedness and tolerance in the first place). The NFL also threatened players who would take a knee. Basically the situation got all kinds of fucked up and a person’s right to protest peacefully was removed.

This brings me to football. This week footballers have been speaking out against racism and the events unfolding in the USA. Jadon Sancho took his shirt off after scoring a goal to reveal a message of support and justice. Various football teams, Marcus Rashford and Gary Lineker are also high profile people using their platform to raise awareness.

I applaud it. They are in a position to amplify an important message, and they are doing it. But what I’ve hated seeing are some of the responses from people. I’ve seen eye-rolling and yawning GIFs, people telling them to just get on with playing football and not ‘get involved in politics’, or parroting the tedious ‘All lives matter’ rhetoric. (Yes, obviously, but it’s not white lives being oppressed and taken, is it? But I don’t have to tell you that.) 

Basically what I am trying to say is, I hope sportspeople will continue to use the platforms given to them to raise awareness of these issues, and for the people questioning them to step back and consider that if they are arguing about this, then maybe (definitely) they are part of the problem.

It’s easy to feel helpless amidst everything that’s going on, especially from the UK, but here are a few things you can do to help: 

  1. If you have cash to spare, here’s a comprehensive list of all the anti-racism charities in the UK: You can also donate to the Minnesota Freedom Fund, which is posting bail for protestors in Minnesota and also distributing funds to other local charities. 
  2. Journalist Zing Tsjeng also has a Twitter thread about how to write to your MP to call for the immediate suspension of UK sales of tear gas, riot shields and rubber bullets to the US, condemnation of Trump’s use of force against his own citizens, and the release of the delayed report into BAME Covid-19 deaths. 
  3. Political scientist @zaranosaur also has a comprehensive reading list on Twitter.

To those in the USA fighting for change, stay safe and continue the fight. I can’t even begin to imagine the pain you are suffering right now. BLM.

Remember their names

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