We have recently seen the return of top-flight English football, where goals and quality play were expected to grab the headlines. Instead, the majority of the conversation has been of the work of the players and the league off the field. I am, of course, talking about the Premier League’s support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, an organised movement in favour of peaceful protest against police violence towards black people and of anti-racist advocacy that started seven years ago, but has been reignited by recent events in the United States of America.
The police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 26 sparked the most recent protests against racism and police brutality which have been held in all 50 American states, and in a number of cities and towns worldwide, showing solidarity against racial discrimination and police brutality. A common sight at these protests has been of protesters kneeling on one knee, a stance that has become known as ‘taking a knee’ and which first came to prominence in September 2016 when used by American Football quarterback Colin Kaepernick as a means of protesting against police brutality and racism whilst the national anthem was played pre-match. It soon became a recognised symbol of protest and was adopted by some of Kaepernick’s fellow NFL players and by US Soccer’s Megan Rapinoe before their peaceful protests were halted by US Soccer and NFL’s rulings on the requirement to stand during the national anthem in 2017 and 2018, respectively. These rulings have since been repealed, and the federations have come out in support of the BLM movement, in the wake of the death of George Floyd and the protests that followed.
Since the return of top-flight professional football in England, despite clubs having previously dissuaded from making public statements that could be seen as political, players have been seen to be warming up in shirts baring anti-racism slogans, and playing in shirts with a BLM badge sown onto the sleeve. In an official show of unity, players’ surnames were also replaced on shirts with the words ‘Black Lives Matter’ for the opening round of matches, and, in a powerful statement, players, officials and staff involved in all 12 games played since the restart (at the time of writing) have taken a knee before kick-off. The allowance of such statements, and the repealing of the previously mentioned US rulings, indicates that mindsets of those at the top of the most popular sports in the UK and US have shifted slightly. However, the effect this movement will have on the future of racism in football, and in the world in general, is yet unknown.
Whilst I personally hope that for greater equality and for a change in the racist views towards people of colour, I do believe that we have a long way to go until racism is stamped out for good. I think that signs of unity and solidarity from public figures, such as those seen in English football, will help bring a change in the thoughts of some, in particular the youth who idolise these figures. However, for change to occur and be more permanent, and to be accepted by a greater majority, actions have to be taken by those in power; in government. It will remain to be seen come November whether or not changes like these are likely to be forthcoming across the pond.
If you wish to make a donation in support of black lives and communities of colour, you can find links to related funds and organisations here.