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As America burns, sport reminds us of its social responsibility

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Roar Guru
1st June, 2020
13

The return of sport was meant to be a unifying factor in the face of Covid-19 as a sense of normality gradually began to return through the resumption of various sporting codes.

This collective spirit though has been diminished after the tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis which has sparked outrage and protests across the globe.

Mr Floyd’s death occurred last Monday after white police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes during an arrest in which there was no sign of struggle, has brought to light again the racial tensions which exist within America as well as globally.

Mr Chauvin has since been fired as well as charged with third–degree murder and manslaughter with a lawyer for the Floyd family accusing Mr Chauvin of ‘premeditated murder’.

“We think that he had intent… almost nine minutes he kept his knee in a man’s neck that was begging and pleading for breath,” he said.

The reaction from the sporting world has been significant with Michael Jordan the latest to release a statement where he simply stated he was, “plain angry.”

German Bundesliga stars Jadon Sancho and Marcus Thuram also sent out a show of support for George Floyd and his family after scoring for their respective clubs over the weekend with English player Sancho taking off his shirt to reveal the message, “Justice for George Floyd.”

Mr Floyd’s death has also put the plight of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick back up in lights, after he became an outcast for kneeling during national anthems in 2016 after protesting police violence against the black community.

President Donald Trump criticised Kaepernick’s stance at the time, “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there, maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.”

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The sport cover of the Houston Chronicle linked the latest death of George Floyd to the very thing Kaepernick was taking a stance against,”Imagine. If we had embraced Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protest and paid attention to the issue he was trying to address… Imagine. We could be working toward change instead of witnessing the chaos, anger and violence in our streets.”

Donald Trump has condemned the protest violence which has erupted across the country,”My administration will stop mob violence, and we’ll stop it cold. It does not serve the interests of justice or any citizen of any race or colour, or creed.”

The intensity of the protests have led to some cities introducing a night time curfew including Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Chicago, as the pain and frustration felt by the African-American population continues to be driven by a society and government which lack the understanding and empathy towards their struggles.

While not condoning the violence which has occurred since his brother’s death, Philonise Floyd also understands where this outpouring of emotion has stemmed from, “I don’t want them to lash out like that, but I can’t stop people right now, because they have pain. They have the same pain that I feel.”

The importance of athletes to use their privileged position within society to affect change has again been brought to the fore, as NBA stars Jaylen Brown and Malcolm Brogdon attended peaceful protests in Atlanta, while San Antonio Spurs guard Lonnie Walker handed out water and helped clean graffiti after its protest,”I take great pride in saying I am part of this community,” Walker said.

George Floyd’s death has tipped the anger and frustration which has been felt by the disenfranchised into a state of anarchy wherein movements no longer preach non-violent resistance.

This pain is born out of centuries of being kept quiet and serving under the, ‘white privilege’, which leads our global society and looks to keep the oppressed silent.

Corporate giants such as Netflix and Nike have aligned themselves with Black Lives Matter wherein Netflix posted on Twitter.

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Current Formula one champion Lewis Hamilton has used this platform as he spoke out and criticised the silence from others in Formula One as well as his fellow drivers, “I see those of you who are staying silent, some of you the biggest of stars yet you stay silent in the midst of injustice,” as he took to Instagram to give a damning verdict on the very sport he competes in, “Not a sign from anybody in my industry which of course is a white-dominated sport.”

Sport and society are intrinsically linked wherein the notion that politics and sport should not mix is completely ignorant of the fact that sport can both reflect the best and worst of humankind.

Professional athletes that are willing to stand outside of their privileged standing and use their public profile to stand against injustice should be applauded and encouraged.

Australia itself struggles to face its own conversation which sees Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders aged between 15-24 almost four times more likely to commit suicide than non-indigenous people of the same age.

We as a country struggle to face these realities as highlighted when one of our most celebrated and successful sportsman Adam Goodes dared challenge the way we are educating and involving our first nation people into Australia’s cultural fabric.

Adam Goodes

Adam Goodes retired in 2015 amidst considerable controversy over his treatment by fans. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

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The family of George Floyd have found an ally in the family of David Dungay who suffered from diabetes and schizophrenia and was in Long Bay jail in 2015 before he was held down and injected with a sedative by a justice health nurse.

Dungay repeated 12 times that he couldn’t breathe which was caught in harrowing footage before he lost consciousness and died.

Sport and race have been intertwined through history from U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics in protest of their countries treatment of the black community.

While modern times have seen black football players being whistled at and abused in Italy’s Serie A as well as the booing Goodes had to contend with after he spoke out against the young girl who called him an ape during an AFL game against Collingwood.

Racism is ingrained within culture and society and much of the time is pushed away from the public sphere or denied by politicians who look only to push the dominant view.

Infamous rappers and groups such as Tupac Shakur and N.W.A. challenged these social norms with their powerful and politically charged lyrics in the early 90s.

They were criticised for their violent imagery and lyrics which discussed police brutality and the oppression African-Americans faced within their communities. This message continues to be echoed in this latest incident wherein the white middle class commentary yet again is failing to acknowledge the roots of these protests.

Sport and its representatives now have a responsibility to stand up to this injustice and make its voice heard. The public platform that many of these athletes earn through their standing in society must be utilised to inspire as well as educate and speak to the people they inspire each week through their sporting talents.

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NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar perfectly encapsulated the angry reaction which has followed Floyd’s death, “African-Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer. Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible- even if you’re choking on it-until you let the sun in.”

This sentiment runs true in a country like Australia wherein our first nation people are not even acknowledged in the Constitution and are pushed to the side when it comes to telling the complete story of this country.

Sport is inevitably looking to resume battles on the field but in fact it may be the battles off the field which ultimately shape the sporting year of 2020.