Hot off the press – Taking the knee: Should politics and sports mix?

Sunday 29 October, 12:0013:00, Free StageHot off the press

‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired. He’s fired!’ Such was Donald Trump’s rant at NFL owners for refusing to condemn players who knelt, rather than stood, for the pre-game national anthem in order to support former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Trump’s comments turned a rather played-out story, ongoing for over a year, into an international headline.

Kaepernick initially knelt for the anthem as a critique of race inequality and police brutality in the USA. The response by athletes the following week was staggering: three teams missed the anthem all together, and dozens more players either locked arms or knelt in protest. The anthem protests have proven incredibly divisive. Many fans see the protests, like Trump, as an unpatriotic insult to the flag and veterans who have served to defend the freedoms it represents. Others say the protests were never about the flag itself, and say they highlight the unequal treatment of African Americans by police.

With academic Kehinde Andrews on BBC’s Newsnight calling for British sportsmen to take the knee to protest the UK’s colonial history, the phenomenon seems to be broadening out from the arena of American sports. What do the protests say about contemporary America? Is the football field the best place to push for change on social issues? Should athletes ever speak out on political points? Is the anthem protest anything other than the politics of performance? Or does raising awareness and showing solidarity point to a brighter future?