The fight for equality and social justice has been immersed in the world of sport for a few years now, sparked by Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit (and later kneel) during the national anthem in 2016. Kaepernick’s movement to raise awareness of police brutality and inequality in America transcended football and took form in other sports as well, with athletes kneeling or otherwise protesting against inequality. While praised by many for his activism, Kaepernick also faced tremendous backlash for his actions, receiving criticism from fans, the league, and even the President. He lost his job, and years later has still not been offered another NFL contract, despite the fact that he continues to train and keep himself in NFL shape.
Flash forward to 2020. The political climate has only gotten more chaotic. Social injustices continue to be a common occurrence. Black men, women, and youth continue to be killed at the hands of the police with regularity. The deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in particular ignited massive protests across the United States and all over the world, and the protests on the streets have carried over into arenas; for months, athletes in various sports and leagues have stood for equality through moments of silence, statements in interviews and so on, with mixed reactions and results.
This is the case for the NFL as well, as the season kicked off two weeks ago. In the opening game of this year’s NFL season, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans had a moment of silence while players from both sides stood while linking arms with one another. Unlike Kaepernick’s protests involving the flag, where many fans misunderstood his mission, in this silent protest the intention was clear; the players linked arms in a display of sportsmanship and unity, while the scoreboard displayed several messages (pictured below).
To the players' surprise, they were met with an overwhelming “boo!” from the crowd.
Were the fans ‘booing’ equality?
Sports such as football have a wide audience, with viewers possessing a broad range of political, social and moral beliefs and values. Out of those ‘booing’, some may genuinely dismiss the fight for racial equality, others could be triggered by the statement “Black Lives Matter”, and others may not be against these ideas, and merely believe that sports should be kept separate from politics. As we are all facing the difficulties of a global pandemic, sports have the power of bringing people together, and some are unhappy that the ‘divisive’ topic of race is at the forefront of sports. In the comment section of almost any protest related sports social media post, fans are polarized, with many supporting and many complaining that players should not speak on these issues.
This begs the question: is there a place for politics in sports?
And to go one step further: is social injustice even a political issue?
In a world where news anchors tell athletes to “shut up and dribble”, let’s try to see the humanity in one another, regardless of our individual views. Are athletes not humans first? Do they not have the right to speak freely? Considering that many athletes in the NFL and elsewhere are Black, and have seen their Black brothers and sisters repeatedly killed by police, they feel that using their platform to speak on these injustices is the right thing to do.
Change requires dialogue, unity, and action, so regardless of one’s individual opinions there is room for improvement. We can listen and learn about each other’s views, and unlearn our biases, in order to stride forward.