Any Progress in Race Relations Has Stalled in Football Sterling Has Crystallised the Feeling of Resentment; 106 SPORT PREMIER LEAGUE

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), December 16, 2018 | Go to article overview

Any Progress in Race Relations Has Stalled in Football Sterling Has Crystallised the Feeling of Resentment; 106 SPORT PREMIER LEAGUE


Byline: Oliver Holt

I spent a week in Alabama last month and on a quiet day, after I had been to see the world heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder in his training camp outside Tuscaloosa and wondered at the scale and the majesty of Bryant-Denny Stadium, where the all-conquering University of Alabama football team plays, I headed further south on a quick road trip.

I stopped in at the Foster Auditorium on the university campus and found the doorway where the former hard-line segregationist Alabama governor George Wallace had stood in 1963 to bar the way to two African-American students hoping to enrol at the university before he was forced to give way by the Alabama National Guard.

It was oSne of the landmark moments in the civil rights struggle and Bob Dylan referenced it in The Times They Are A-Changin'. 'Come senators congressman, please heed the call,' he sang, 'don't stand in the doorway, don't block up the hallthere's a battle outside and it's ragin'. It'll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls.' Then I drove down through tired, struggling little towns like Centreville and through cotton fields and straggling communities grouped around Route 219, to Selma so I could walk across the Edmund Pettus bridge where a group of civil rights activists began a voting rights march in 1965 only to be beaten brutally with billy clubs by the police when they reached the other side of the Alabama River.

When I got back to the hotel that night, the television news was running the latest story on how Colin Kaepernick, the former quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers and, more recently, the face of a new generation's civil rights battle in the US, had been ignored by yet another NFL team who needed a back-up for an injured starter.

In the face of a spate of shootings of unarmed black men by police and security guards, Kaepernick began the practice of taking a knee during the playing of the US national anthem before games as a form of peaceful protest. He has been ostracised by the league as a result. Many of his supporters fear that his playing career is over.

But Kaepernick is the most obvious symbol of the fact that in the States, black athletes are using their power and their profile to stand at the forefront of campaigns to try to protect the rights their forebears fought so hard to attain in places like Tuscaloosa and Selma and to rail against racial prejudice in modern-day America.

LeBron James, the Los Angeles Lakers player and the most high-profile basketballer in the NBA, has had several public spats with President Trump. Trump responded in one Tweet that he preferred Michael Jordan, the notoriously apolitical former Chicago Bulls superstar, who was said to avoid taking sides because 'Republicans buy sneakers, too'.

Those days are over in the States now and they are over in England, too. Raheem Sterling's Instagram post last weekend that responded to the way he had been abused during Manchester City's match against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge was a sign that black athletes here have also decided that enough is enough and that they are ready to use their position and their influence to speak out.

Just as in the States, there is a feeling that today's generation of black footballers are trying to defend the gains made by their predecessors. The Brexit vote appears to have empowered many of those who hold racist views and encouraged them to express those views more openly and more vociferously and, because football is a microcosm of society, it is feeling the aftershock.

On Thursday night, Chelsea fans sang anti-Semitic chants during their team's Europa League match with MOL Vidi in Hungary.

Anti-semitism is on the rise in the country as a whole so, again, it is little surprise it is bleeding into football, too. Hate crime has been increasing since 2016. Issues around race are more and more charged.

Progress in race relations appears to have stalled in football. …

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