Magazine article The Spectator

Spectator Sport: Roger Alton

Magazine article The Spectator

Spectator Sport: Roger Alton

Article excerpt

The history of sport and political protest in this country would be a slim old volume. It would feature quite a bit of Robbie Fowler, the Liverpool striker, who once lifted his shirt after scoring to reveal a Calvin Klein T-shirt which said 'Support the Dockers' using the 'C' and 'K' of the fashion logo. He might have been misguided -- those dockers had been on strike, as they always seemed to be, and they did a fair bit to bring down (temporarily) the great city of Liverpool -- but Fowler was a terrific player and an all-round good guy. He once persuaded a ref to revoke a penalty and later made an elaborate show of snorting the touchline. He also bought up more or less every bit of property in Liverpool: hence the terrace anthem, to the tune of 'Yellow Submarine': 'We all live in a Robbie Fowler house...'

In general our sportsmen are discouraged from being political. They devote their energies to being brand ambassadors for watches or whiskies or motor cars. There was a brief skirmish recently over football teams, especially England, wearing the Remembrance Day poppy. After trying to ban this as 'political', Fifa eventually backed down.

It is precisely because sport can have such power that we should all applaud the 'taking the knee' protest during the singing of the national anthem that has swept the National Football League in America. Indeed I would take the knee myself if I thought I could get up again. The protest started a year ago when Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers, knelt during the anthem to raise awareness of police brutality against young African-Americans. It was not a protest about Trump; it was a protest about race. But nobody gave a damn and since then Kaepernick can barely get work.

But the protest took off a few days ago when, quite out of the blue and presumably as a diversionary tactic from god knows what, President Trump called on football club owners to suspend any players who protested during the national anthem, and added a little spice by calling the players 'sons of bitches'. …

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