Trump-induced fury (I feel like this should be recognised as a real medical ailment) has been ignited again within the world of sport when the President of the United States made rather bold statements about NFL players. I’ll keep it brief but essentially what happened was that at a Republican rally on Friday 22 September, Donald Trump said that players who take the knee during the national anthem shouldn’t be allowed to play. Or, as he so eloquently put, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired. He’s fired!’ This portion of the speech received a roar of cheers and applause from the crowd in Alabama.
This was in reference to Colin Kaepernick’s protest last year when he knelt during the the national anthem, saying he didn’t want to stand for a country that still oppressed black people. As a Brit, I didn’t realise the extent of backlash this sort of action could go to, but after a bit of research I learnt how important it is for American citizens to show their allegiance to the flag. It is quite a statement to go against this tradition, however it isn’t illegal.
Fast forward a year to the response that Trump’s remarks elicited from sports stars in the US. Golden State Warrior Stephen Curry decided not to attend a White House visit with his NFL teammates, sparking tweets from Trump withdrawing the invitation and calling the player ‘disrespectful’. The hypocrisy is almost physically painful.
Twitter blew up. Lebron James and Kobe Bryant were amongst the many prominent sports personalities who spoke out, even calling Trump a ‘bum’.
Perhaps not the most inventive insult but hilarious regardless. Support also came from the likes of Stevie Wonder taking the knee at one of his performances, and Kaepernick’s mum, who is now my hero:
The hashtag #TakeTheKnee was trending as NFL players knelt in solidarity. Other sports figures followed suit such as MLB Oakland Athletics player, Bruce Maxwell, and Georgia Tech dancer, Raianna Brown, even when their teammates remained standing and their CEOs remained silent.
Why does this matter? It’s only sport, it’s only an insult, so why are we hearing so much about it? Why are people making it about something other than a show of ‘disrespect’? As Trump himself said:
The way I see it, sport is historically significant as a place of social change. Jackie Robinson, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Althea Gibson, Jesse Owens… Just to name a few African Americans who revolutionised professional sport.
And it seems that when something can be changed within a game, it infiltrates the rest of society’s race issues. For white people, seeing different races excel disproved their long-held prejudices. For black people and other minority groups, it showed just what could be achieved. If those who have been systematically oppressed can succeed in the world of sport, they can succeed in the world itself. It’s integral for us to still recognise the significance that the sporting world can play in influencing our entire social structure.
There is also the conversation about the form that protest takes. Taking the knee is a peaceful action, trending on Twitter is a peaceful action , speaking up is a peaceful action. Think about this in contrast to the events in Charlottesville earlier this year, when the violence and destruction overtook the protest’s purpose itself. #TakeTheKnee means the message is louder than the action.
However, is this effective? I’m never an advocate for violence but I can’t help wondering how long #TakeTheKnee will last. Yes, everyone is discussing it now in both traditional outlets and on social media, but when will that fizzle out? When will the next trend dominate conversation and we forget about this cause to jump on the next social justice bandwagon?
Peaceful protest is a fantastic way of bringing an issue to the public’s attention but then what? If Black Power hadn’t emerged, would the NSPCC have been able to get the same outcome in the civil rights’ movement? This is a genuine question from me as I wouldn’t even be able to begin arguing either way; the subject is so complex and of course, entirely hypothetical. It’s just interesting to see how the race issues in America will be faced.
Will taking the knee be enough? What else can be done? Donald Trump doesn’t seem to have any qualms about war, whether that is with other nations (don’t get me started on North Korea) or within his own country. What if violence – or at least the threat of violence – really is the only way to make politicans listen? It feels like we are in a world where influence and nuance means little; perhaps change can only come about through force and enforcement?