With the protests over the death of George Floyd, an African American man, escalating in the United States, some of the biggest personalities across the sporting fraternity raised their voice in support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
In 2016, American football player Colin Kaepernick famously began kneeling for pre-game playing of the US national anthem as a way of protesting racial inequality and police brutality but eventually found himself without a team in the NFL.
The issue has now surged back into the headlines following the death of Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. The 46-year-old restaurant worker died after being pinned to the ground with one police officer kneeling on his neck for several minutes. The arrest, which was captured on video, showed the handcuffed Floyd gasping for air and pleading that he can’t breathe. It was the latest in a series of fatal confrontations between police officers and unarmed black men in recent years that have triggered outrage.
The incident has triggered an outpouring of condemnation from top athletes including American icons Michael Jordan, Serena Williams, Tiger Woods as well as international figures like Lewis Hamilton and footballers in the Bundesliga as well as cricketers from the West Indies.
With US professional sports on hold during the coronavirus pandemic, American athletes had no chance to demonstrate on the field of play. But several of them took to social media in outrage over another case of police brutality against the black community.
Here’s a look at what some of them had to say:
NBA legend Michael Jordan, who was famously reluctant to comment on social issues during his playing career, slammed the “ingrained racism” in the US.
“I am deeply saddened, truly pained and plain angry,” he said. “I stand with those who are calling out the ingrained racism and violence toward people of color in our country. We have had enough. We need to continue peaceful expressions against injustice and demand accountability.”
Los Angeles Lakers legend Lebron James contrasted the incident with the kneeling protests of Kaepernick who was ostracised by the NFL for kneeling during the playing of the national anthem.
“Do you understand NOW!!??!!??” James wrote on social media. “Or is it still blurred to you?? #StayWoke”.
He has been sharing videos and information about peaceful protests and messages of solidarity on his social media platforms.
Kaepernick himself, who is a former NFL quarterback-turned-civil rights activist, on Thursday voiced support for protesters who have demonstrated.
“When civility leads to death, revolting is the only logical reaction,” Kaepernick, 32, wrote on Twitter in his first public comments on the case.
“The cries for peace will rain down, and when they do, they will land on deaf ears, because your violence has brought this resistance,” added Kaepernick, who has been frozen out of the NFL since being released by the 49ers in early 2017.
“We have the right to fight back! Rest in Power George Floyd.”
French footballer Marcus Thuram and England international Jadon Sancho both mounted individual protests, calling for justice for Floyd after scoring in Germany’s Bundesliga on Sunday, which is the only top-flight European football league in action at the moment.
Thuram took a knee after scoring for Borussia Moenchengladbach, echoing past protests by National Football League players in the US in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Because of physical distancing rules, goal celebrations were muted but after Thuram headed his team’s second goal just before half time he took the opportunity to make a solitary statement, kneeling and bowing his head.
At half time, his club tweeted a photo with the caption: “No explanation needed.”
Sancho marked one of his three goals for Borussia Dortmund against Paderborn by lifting his jersey to reveal a T-shirt bearing the words “Justice for George Floyd”.
Schalke’s US midfielder Weston McKennie wore an armband against Werder Bremen bearing the words “Justice for George”.
“To be able to use my platform to bring attention to a problem that has been going on too long feels good!!!” he tweeted.
Liverpool players showed their solidarity by taking a knee around the centre circle at Anfield on Monday. The team and Reds stars including Virgil van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold tweeted the same photograph of the squad along with the words “Unity is strength” accompanied by the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter.
The tennis community protested in a unique way with Frances Tiafoe starting a new initiative called #Racquetsdownhandsup where players and other tennis fraternity members, largely belonging to the black community, raised their hands as if in surrender when faced by a gun. The players include Serena Williams, Gael Monfils, Naomi Osaka, James Blake, Sloane Stephens, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Coco Gauff.
Serena also posted an Instagram video featuring a young African-American girl overcome by emotion as she addressed a public meeting, finally able to force out the words: “We are black people, and we shouldn’t have to feel like this.” She also shared the campaign from Nike, which urges people to take a stand.
Two-time tennis Grand Slam champion Osaka appeared to join the movement as she posted pictures of protests from Minneapolis on her Instagram account.
“Just because it isn’t happening to you doesn’t mean it isn’t happening at all,” wrote Osaka.
“To be able to use my platform to bring attention to a problem that has been going on too long feels good!!!” the 22-year-old tweeted.
In what is arguably the strongest reaction from a sportsperson so far, Gauff, a 16-year-old African American, posted a TikTok video on her Twitter feed, juxtaposing an image of herself clad in a black hoodie with photos of Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin and others.
Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, was killed on February 23 while running in a residential neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia. Taylor an emergency medical technician who was black, was shot and killed by police who burst into her home in Kentucky in March. Martin was a high school student when he was shot in 2012 in a killing that helped spark the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Am I next?” a caption asks, as Gauff slowly raises her face and hands to the camera.
“This is why I am using my voice to fight against racism. I am using my voice,” the caption concluded, “Will you use yours?”
Golf superstar Tiger Woods called it a “shocking tragedy” but said violent protests were not the answer. He likened the situation to the Los Angeles riots of 1992, after four police were acquitted over the beating of motorist Rodney King.
“I have always had the utmost respect for our law enforcement. They train so diligently to understand how, when and where to use force. This shocking tragedy clearly crossed that line,” he said.
Cricketers join in
West Indies cricketer Darren Sammy on Tuesday urged the International Cricket Council and the rest of the cricketing fraternity to raise their voice against racism or else be ready to be considered “a part of the problem”.
Fellow West Indies player Chris Gayle, in a post on Instagram, revealed that he has experienced racism around the world during his career and called for justice.
Former Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara said on Tuesday that the activism in the US is a powerful lesson to everyone in the world.
Sangakkara said, irrespective of where one lives in the world, the “State that should not determine our sensibilities and sensitivities,” in an eight-part message he posted on his Twitter account.
Among Indian athletes, tennis player Sumit Nagal wrote about how his personal experience of facing racism and urged sportspersons to lend their voice.
Elsewhere, World champion driver Lewis Hamilton lashed out at “white-dominated” Formula One for failing to speak out against racism.
Hamilton warned “I know who you are and I see you” as the Briton accused his fellow drivers of “staying silent in the midst of injustice” following Floyd’s death.
Boston Celtics forward Jaylen Brown returned to his native Georgia to lead a peaceful protest match in Atlanta. Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers, himself the son of a policeman, said that as violence escalated it was imperative to keep Floyd’s death at the forefront.
There were several more messages and statement from the sports community in the US condemning the attack.
Warriors star Stephen Curry lamented yet another death involving an unarmed African-American man at the hands of law enforcement.
Retired Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson also hit out, saying Floyd had been “clearly murdered.”
NFL Cleveland Browns receiver Odell Beckham Jr. tweeted:
Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford said he feared society was “more divided than ever”.
“At a time I’ve been asking people to come together, work together and be united, we appear to me more divided than ever,” said Rashford. “People are hurting and people need answers.
“Black lives matter. Black culture matters. Black communities matter. We matter.”
Rashford’s United teammate Paul Pogba said “violent acts of racism can no longer be tolerated.”
The French World Cup winner posted on Instagram: “I can’t tolerate, I won’t tolerate, WE WON’T TOLERATE. Racism is ignorance, LOVE is intelligence.
Former England captain David Beckham posted on Instagram: “My heart goes out to George’s family and I stand in solidarity with the black community and millions of others across the world who are outraged by these events. It’s heartbreaking to see that in 2020 this is still happening.”
The English Professional Footballers Association (PFA) said in a statement: “We want America to know that the world is watching. The action taken to ensure justice for George Floyd at this moment sends a clear message about the perceived value of black lives in America.”
Here are some more reactions:
With AFP Inputs