Fours years after former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem to draw attention to police brutality and racial injustice in the Donald Trump regime, his “taking a knee” gesture has remerged as a powerful symbol of protest. In the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, an African-American, who lost his life when a white police officer knelt on his neck, thousands in the US and the rest of the world have knelt down in protest during demonstrations. The symbol has rippled into the world of sport too. Last week, Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho removed his yellow jersey to reveal “Justice for George Floyd” written on his undershirt after scoring a goal. Three other players “took a knee”, and all of them are under investigation for making political statements on the field.
This has triggered, yet again, debates on whether sportsmen should openly express political dissent or support. History, though, is replete with instances of sportsmen emerging as icons of political protests. As far back as 1906, Irish long jumper Peter O’Connor shimmied up a 20-feet high flagpole and hoisted a large green flag with the words “Erin Go Bragh (Ireland forever)” during that year’s Olympics. Other instances include the legendary Jesse Owens in the 1936 Berlin Games, or the famous black-power salute of athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the Olympic podium in 1968, or when Muhammad Ali refused to enlist in the US Army during the Vietnam war.
Sport has spoken up and said that it cannot seal itself off from the outside world. Such outspokenness, however, might be alien to Indian sportspersons. Here, image-conscious sportspersons consciously practise political and social distancing. They choose to live in their own sanitised bubbles. Maybe, they fear the fate of Kaepernick, who was released at the end of the season. No owner has hired him, fearing a commercial backlash.