“I wish I had put a bet on Black Lives Matter to score, he’s all over the pitch”. This comment appeared on my Facebook feed while I was watching the Premier League game between Southampton and Norwich. In solidarity with the Black Lives Matter campaign, the slogan replaced player’s names on the back of their shirt, as well as having a small emblem of the movement’s logo on their arm sleeve.
The coverage on Sky was extensive in the attention it paid to the campaign, and the Football Association’s (FA) support of the movement was highlighted by commentators, players, coaching staff and officials, all of whom ‘took the knee’ in solidarity to those affected by racism.
Such a small physical gesture was incredibly powerful, and I found myself slightly taken aback by the beautiful stillness of it all. For a few moments, the importance of the match, the need of a certain result, was entirely forgotten, and instead attention was shifted to a far greater and more important game.
I use the term ‘game’ here loosely, for the fight against racism cannot be used comparatively to something as trivial as a sporting event. But it is a game in which we have winners and losers, and it is for that exact reason that the Black Lives Matter movement is necessary. The winners are those oblivious to the racism around them or are fortunate enough to not experience it. And the losers? Well, they are at risk of losing their lives.
The FA’s decision to pay prolific attention to the campaign is therefore surely a positive move, and one to show their allegiance to the cause- its purpose and intended message. However, like almost everything in our society, it has been met with some controversy.
An extreme example of frustration and disregard to the FA’s decision to print Black Lives Matter on the back of player’s shirts was the demonstration at the game between Burnley and Manchester City, where a few Burnley supporters organised a plane banner reading ‘White Lives Matter Burnley’.
The purpose behind the banner is fascinating, all be it incredibly disrespectful, distasteful, and just completely and irrevocably ignorant. Were the creators intending to be humorous? Are they overtly racist in their daily lives, or just demonstrating their dislike for the inclusion of an anti-racism campaign within their precious football sphere? After speaking to a few individuals, this seems to be a recurring thought.
Along with the refusal to acknowledge why the phrase Black Lives Matter is needed, rather than All lives, (if All lives DID matter, the phrase wouldn’t be necessary in the first place), there seems to be a reluctance to include anything in the game which alludes to, or explicitly supports, a larger movement. Sport is sport, and should remain as just that, and only that. Anything else ‘takes away’ from the game and its importance.
If the inclusion of the slogan on the back of football shirts causes you discomfort, imagine the people who actually have to experience racism and injustice
My response to people who may think like that is simple- we are too far gone for that mentality. Too many people have lost their lives, too many people are suffering injustice, and too much time has passed with a racial undercurrent pervading our society. If the inclusion of the slogan on the back of football shirts causes you discomfort, imagine the people who actually have to experience racism and injustice.
I understand why people may feel uncomfortable with the FA’s decision to loudly show their support of the campaign, because it forces people to acknowledge it. Those who have been actively avoiding media coverage, or try to sidestep conversations concerning race, are suddenly and unapologetically faced with the statement that Black Lives Matter.
There will be those who say that the movement does not involve them, and that all they want is to watch a game of football, and not be bombarded with socially or politically charged statements. To those people, I ask them to look at how lucky they are that they are not affected in the same way others are. You are being asked to acknowledge and learn about a campaign and movement, rather than experience the injustice which has made it necessary in the first place.
If you found yourself or your family and friends in danger of prejudice, and there was an opportunity for this injustice to be broadcasted to millions of people, in the hope of providing momentum and evoking change, would you not support it? Would you still say that it “distracts from the game”?
Football has the capacity on and off the pitch to encourage changes, highlight inequalities and give voices to those who need to be heard
Football has the capacity on and off the pitch to encourage changes, highlight inequalities and give voices to those who need to be heard. The likes of Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford have been incredibly vocal. They have used their platforms as ‘famous’ figures to tackle issues and be figureheads of change- with Sterling leading the Anti-Racism campaign for the Premier League, and Rashford successfully campaigning for free school meal vouchers for children during the summer holidays. These players, the clubs they play for, and the game they play therefore has undeniable influence. Influence which should not be wasted.
The FA’s volume in supporting the Black Lives Matter campaign is loud, as I believe it should be. However, after a reasonably quick search into the FA’s management and board, which contains 26 individuals, I wonder if you can hazard a guess into how many of these individuals are black. If you guessed anything above zero, you are wrong.
An investigation into why the most important and influential figures of English football include no people of colour is needed
It is easy to call out racism, to print some words on the back of shirts, but it is of equal, if not more importance, to eradicate racial prejudice from the core of an institution itself. I am not calling the Football Association racist, but an investigation into why the most important and influential figures of English football include no people of colour is needed. There is no point taking such a positive stance towards the Black Lives Matter campaign if at the association’s core, racial bias is still very much present.
No one likes talking about difficult subjects. No one likes being confronted about death and tragedy. But we have passed the stage where ignorance is acceptable. Negligence simply cannot be tolerated anymore.
To ignore worldwide injustice is to take the side of the oppressors. Football and popular culture in general should use whatever power they have and utilise their voices to evoke change. Followers of the Premier League who may have been living in a protected and isolated bubble have faced a pin prick which they may not have expected, may not want, but absolutely need.
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