Solidarity: when footballers take the knee they are prepared to take the flak
Taking a knee is so much more than a simple human gesture, it is an icon of protest, the face of a social movement and a cultural revolution.
The gesture first originated in 2016, when American Football quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat on a bench during the national anthem in protest of racism and police brutality, to which he was met with negative reception by many who considered the statement to be disrespectful towards the American flag and unpatriotic.
Equally, there were just as many who were in defence of Kaepernick’s actions, one of which being then president, Barack Obama who defended his entitlement to the use of free speech.
Athletes, managers and coaches of all sports around the world began to stand with Kaepernick out of solidarity for his bravery in being so outspoken with his platform, despite the clear risk of being singled out and punished to the point where he found himself out of contract with no teams prepared to take on the negative PR storm.
Since then, taking a knee before a match has become a regularity in football and just about every other sport too with the Black Lives Matter movement currently riding at an all-time-high of cultural relevance.
In the Premier League, teams started out adopting the BLM logo into the aesthetic design of their football shirts, before then reverting to the more traditional ‘No Room for Racism’ patches after the organisation was accused of using George Floyd’s death for political gain among other things.
Les Ferdinand, director of football at Queen’s Park Rangers, has made his reservations crystal clear about taking the knee in support of Black Lives Matter.
In a statement he said that doing so “will not bring change”.
The harsh wording may appear dismissive of the gesture at first glance, but his point was that no matter how many people get behind the movement, it is just far too passive to make any sort of significant impact on society as opposed to political actions.
What makes it difficult to get rid of racism is the fact that it is such a complex issue with several layers that has been around for years and years, and so because of this, it isn’t necessarily something that can be fixed overnight.
Change of this kind is an extremely slow-moving process, because fundamentally speaking, it is a deeply political matter that would require governments to make their laws stricter in order to deter potential offenders from committing it like prison time for example, and politics move incredibly slow.
Pep Guardiola says ‘racism is everywhere’, not just in football. pic.twitter.com/rwbGWHyiws
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) December 11, 2018
Right now, no such deterrent exists to allow more control over this problem, so it continues to go largely unpunished.
Football has tried and tried again to kick racism out of the sport but has consistently failed to make an impact with each successive attempt.
In England there have been arrests issued for racist comments made by certain individuals, but the issue remains that the punishment is nowhere near harsh enough for racist offences.
It leaves people with a strong sense of security that they can freely abuse players knowing that the punishment will ultimately pale in comparison to a serious sentence, and far more likely to receive a stadium ban or the club themselves getting fined on their behalf.
Italy is possibly even worse with multiple cases of black players being abused like Moise Kean who was a victim of racist chanting from Cagliari fans after directing his celebrations in front of their end of the stadium.
His teammate, Leonardo Bonucci had something to say about the incident in his post-match interview, particularly criticizing the 20-year-old for how he handled the situation with celebrating in front of the away fans, saying that he could have done it differently and that the blame is 50-50.
Kean’s celebration may have been considered confrontational by some, but fans also have their own responsibility not to rise to antagonistic remarks in an extreme manner such as racism or violence.
The friendly rivalry and one-upmanship between players and fans established itself as a staple in not only football but sports in general, where cheeky taunts like sarcastically cheering when an opposition player misses a shot are justifiable, because the intent is to throw off their concentration.
To some people however, taking the knee is nothing more than a flashy and conveniently placed PR stunt.
The London based Queen’s Park Rangers FC were certainly of this opinion, becoming the first football league club to make the bold and forward-thinking political statement of not taking the knee, something that received a considerable amount of criticism in the process.
The club stood firm by their actions though, as they remained confident that their own take on the movement was the true way to progress, and they would eventually go on to prove this decision right as time went on with other clubs beginning to follow suit to the point where it became the standard.
On the other hand, there is a separate category of footballers that go above and beyond taking the knee to contribute towards the movement in other ways.
Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is a prime example of this archetype, the 31-year-old Gabonese international has already shown his support for the movement in games, but what makes his support particularly unique is that he donated an Arsenal football kit with customized letter printing that read ‘Black Lives Matter’ to a museum in order to inspire young people to get up and make a difference.
Aubameyang’s donation set the bar for other footballers and athletes to follow as an example.
This is how to use your platform as an athlete to make a positive change in the world, for using something as popular as football for a means of education is such a genius way of achieving this as many youngsters look up to footballers as their own role models, so it just makes complete sense for these two groups to collaborate with one another.
Role models are so crucial to young people because it is an important and impressionable time in your life when you need proper guidance in order to develop properly as a human being, and if you are not surrounded by the right people from a young age, you can easily start to go down the wrong path where it can be very difficult to bounce back from.
The payoff may not necessarily have an immediate effect, but it is setting up a whole new generation of people who themselves will grow and develop into active supporters of the movement. Politics benefit from this slow turnover however, because what is the main factor that ultimately decides which political changes are made?
The general public. They are the ones that have the final say on what and what doesn’t go into effect, because everything goes to a referendum. Sure, governments can pose the question…but the result is entirely out of their hands.
With more young people that can be inspired by players such as Aubameyang comes more force and influence when they reach the age that they are eligible to vote on these things, ensuring a long and promising future of societal progress where the movement can be taken to a whole new level in terms of achievement.
Despite the sudden shift in opinion regarding football players taking the knee, a recent poll by YouGov has brought about a result that would suggest quite the opposite.
To which most Premier League fans answered in favor of players taking the knee at football matches, but when you have fans saying yes and the clubs saying no, what exactly is the best way to move forward?
The logical solution at this point would be for each respective party to just carry on the way they have been going, considering these parties already operate completely independent of one another, regardless of whether the other side wants to go about it in their own personal way.