25 May The power of sport: Footballers speak out against injustice after George Floyd’s murder | UK News
Footballers have only realised their ability to influence public opinion and highlight injustice in the year since George Floyd was murdered, Aston Villa and England star Tyrone Mings has said.
Mings was one of the players who took the knee in the first Premier League match after Floyd’s murder in the US sparked outrage and led to protests against police brutality and racism around the world.
Aston Villa played Sheffield United last June as the Premier League resumed following an enforced 100 day suspension because of COVID-19.
Many Premier League players continue to perform the gesture before kick-off and Mings said the movement has amplified the power sportsmen and women have.
“The power of players these days in this country, or sport in general, has only been realised in the last 12 months since George Floyd’s death,” he told Sky Sports News.
“Players realised if we want to support the NHS, wear BLM on our shirts, taking the knee, we can. If all the players are in unity there’s not really much that anyone can say.”
Some teams have stopped taking the knee and Crystal Palace star Wilfried Zaha said he thinks the protest is no longer sufficient and he feels kneeling is “degrading”.
But Mings said the anniversary of George Floyd’s death is a marker in a continuing drive for equality in sport and society.
“The fact that the message is still right at the forefront of people’s minds shows that the work isn’t being lost,” he said.
“The momentum is still there, people still want to understand what that day was a catalyst for.
“I think everything that’s happened in the past 12 months has been really powerful within football.
“I’ve been at the forefront of some things and been privy to a lot of conversations in terms of change and what can football do to be better and be more inclusive and come down on people who are racist. I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved with those so to say now it’s a year on, it does seem like a lot has happened.”
The gesture of taking the knee was originated by American football player Colin Kaepernick, then a San Francisco 49ers quarterback, who sat and knelt during the national anthem playing before games in 2016. His was a protest against police brutality and racism. He was shunned by the NFL and some sponsors because of his actions.
But the racial unrest and rise of the Black Lives Matter movement was so widely embraced in sport that in many cases sponsors were rewarding athletes for taking a stand.
Manchester United and England star Marcus Rashford became a household name, using his platform not only to protest racism in sport and society, but to change government policy on free school meals.
“If you have a natural authentic voice as Marcus Rashford did then you can have a very positive impact,” said George Gilmore, business director at rEvolution, a sport management company.
“Marcus grew up in a low income family, his mother worked but wasn’t always able to put food on the table so he knew exactly what that was like and was able to talk with a great level of insight.
“If you come at it from a commercial perspective first, ‘here’s a cause I can jump on the bandwagon and maybe there’s some sponsorship dollars down the line’, then it’s a disaster.”
In America, the Atlanta Dream women’s basketball team protested against their owner Kelly Loefler, who was also the state senator and had called the Black Lives Matter movement “Marxist” and “divisive”.
The players campaigned for her political rival and Reverend Raphael Warnock went from struggling in the polls to being elected. The women had helped the Democrats win the senate.
Elizabeth Williams, a basketball player for Atlanta Dream, told Sky News: “We’re inherently political, as a female league as a league of majority black women.
“When you’re in a minority group, when you’re in a marginalised group you’re inherently more political and you can’t do anything about that so there’s a luxury in being able to say keep politics out of sports when this affects our reality and our humanity.
“I think athletes are finally understanding that power and understanding that these leagues they’re nothing without players so at the end of the day our voices are just as important as anyone else’s.”
As part of the anniversary coverage of George Floyd’s death, Sky News is showing a 12 minute film presented by Stuart Lawrence – Stephen Lawrence’s brother. Called Stephen and George: The Killings That Inspired a Movement, it will air throughout Tuesday.
And tonight night on Sky Documentaries you can watch a special programme looking at the wider issue of racial equality in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
That’s George Floyd: From Murder to Justice? Tonight on Sky Documentaries, and then on Sky News at Nine O’clock tomorrow