In recent weeks, Donald Trump has berated sports players who take a knee or stand silent in defiance throughout the national anthem during sports games. Following Trump’s remarks, on Sunday 24th September we saw the biggest protest yet, as around two dozen NFL players took a knee during the national anthem before the Baltimore Ravens v Jacksonville Jaguars match to defy Trump.
The protestations of American sportsmen have been given great media attention in recent weeks, as the President has weighed into the debate, but the protest itself has been evident for over a year.
American football player, Colin Kaepernick started the movement 13 months ago by sitting on the bench during the national anthem in protest against police brutality towards black people in America. This later evolved into him taking a knee amongst his team-mates whilst the anthem was played and sung by those around him. Kaepernick explained his actions by stating that he is not prepared to “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people, and people of colour”. Whilst he may have received little support from other professionals at first, protests have now become widespread across the NFL, NBA and NLB.
Trump, in a typically fierce bout of patriotism, has called on NFL owners to have players who protest during the anthem “fired”. He has claimed that when an owner takes such a decision “they’ll be the most popular person in the country”.
This remarkable situation brings together a great deal of contentious issues in America today. Racism, patriotism, police brutality and the integration of sports and politics are all pertinent in this scenario. It is undeniable that police brutality towards black people in America is an extremely serious issue today, with 34% of unarmed deaths at the hands of the police in 2016 being black males, an alarming statistic considering black males only make up only 6% of the entire American population.
There are, however, a number of groups who believe that such protests have no place in the world of sport and that more than anything else it simply shows a lack of patriotism and disrespect.
Despite this, politics and social issues have been made clear in sports before. One of the most famous examples of protests in sport is when John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised the black power salute on the podium just after winning medals at the 1968 Olympics.
In more recent years, high profile NBA players such as LeBron James and Kobe Bryant have worn shirts supporting the Black Lives Matter movement in the aftermath of the choking of Eric Garner in New York. In this regard, American sports players taking a knee in protest is not a revolutionary movement, but it has caused incredible political and social division.
As the movement has begun to move beyond the American football field, with celebrities such as singer Stevie Wonder and actress Olivia Wilde staging protests in front of their fans, controversy will only continue to grow.
Regardless of the White House’s attempts to spin this as an insult to the flag and to Americas armed forces and war veterans, this is a movement of solidarity being performed on one of the biggest platforms in the world.
Whether sports and politics should overlap or not, American sportsmen showing solidarity against their government and the attention that it has received shows just how important sports is in influencing the world around it.
As Donald Trump maintains his stubborn stance and more and more people take a knee during the national anthem, this protest looks like it will only grow bigger.
Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore