We need athletes to speak up on the great travesties of justice
Iwould describe the response within the NBA and sports generally in the United States to the shooting of Jacob Blake as the most civil of disobediences. It is amazing to me when people complain about this level of athlete activism over matters of conscience. We do not seem to mind the fact that they sell us sugar water; we do not mind that they sell us shoes that are too expensive.
We expect them to be role models, and this is the kind of pivotal moment where people should really step up and embody that moniker. This is exactly the type of moment when powerful people should use their voice and power to demand justice is done.
We have to keep discussing the fact that there are absolute travesties of justice going on. We can no longer pretend there are not and make excuses about the nature of the people who are being shot in the back seven times. Evidentially, black lives do not matter as much as everyone else’s.
There are plenty of issues of prejudice and bias in the UK that our athlete role models should be speaking about. I am not sure that British professional athletes should necessarily be boycotting on the basis of what is happening in the US, but there is enough happening at home for us to consider it not just normal, but a responsibility for athletes to use their platform to speak out on behalf of those who do not have a voice.
If you look at healthcare, education and criminal justice, there are disparities. If you are a black woman in the UK, you are five times more likely to die in childbirth than if you are white. That is not due to physiological differences: we are not a different species.
Right now, there is a societal issue with racial intolerance; in the UK, there is an issue with black people being more likely than white people to be stopped and searched, have force used in those interactions and even be fined for lockdown breaches. All of these disparities are real. What we want is to not have black people die
unnecessarily at the hands of those who are charged to “protect and serve”.
I do not know whether we will ever see British sport coming together in the way we have seen
in the US. I think its administration is, at best, apathetic in terms of anti-racism – outside of disability sport, perhaps.
But Marcus Rashford proved a few weeks ago that the voice of athletes can be leveraged for great good regardless. Children ate instead of going hungry because a footballer spoke up. If we are serious about asking and indeed demanding that athletes be role models, speaking up on the great issues of consequence is exactly how they should be doing it. When you see what happened with Rashford in the UK, LeBron James and his school in the US, you realise in some situations, only someone like an athlete can make it happen.
If unarmed black people keep on getting shot in the back or choked to death, you can expect this to escalate in the US, but even now, NBA players have decided to go back to work having made their point, but it would be a mistake to think them finished with civil disobedience. You can expect it to move out of sports into other areas where black people play prominent roles. I think that is what we should expect.
You talk to white colleagues and friends and they do not understand that, as a black person, there is something traumatising about watching someone being murdered for looking like you. You turn on social media or the television and you see someone being murdered or maltreated, and it informs you that you are not quite enough, that your skin colour is a reason why others would think you are not a true citizen and do not deserve even the right to live.
Fighting for the cause: Raheem Sterling has spoken out against racism in football