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There's the need for new gestures in football

Kneeling BLM is no longer enough

There's the need for new gestures in football  Kneeling BLM is no longer enough

In August 2016, during the American anthem before the San Francisco 49ers-Green Bay Packers football game, Colin Kaepernick knelt in protest of police violence against blacks. The African-American player was the first to kneel in a sporting context in protest against the brutality of law enforcement, ushering in a gesture that, over the years, has become a media symbol of the fight against racism. The kneeling was immediately identified as an iconic gesture and reached a worldwide media resonance, expanding to other sports and becoming one of the symbols in recent months of the Black Lives Matter movement. The great merit of a gesture that has become so iconic is to bring the issue of racism to the media and sports policy agenda even when it is not a question of racism, because the most effective policy is that of continuous struggle and condemnation and not interventionist.

After 5 years, the strength of that gesture is running out, as is normal, the media has progressively normalized the kneeling, whose repetition and spread of the gesture - from the NBA to the Premier League - has made every occasion when it was made a little less powerful at the media level. Today, in order to continue to combat racism and to amplify the voice of dissent against forms of discrimination, we need a new act of communication: this was explained in an article Versus, and Wilfried Zaha also confirmed in a recent interview. Sports iconography may still be a communication tool for expanding important social messages such as the fight against racism, but it needs to find a new form of expression.

In the history of sport there have been many public complaints. One of the first and most resounding was that at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City by athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos. On the podium, during the awards ceremony, they remained with their arms raised and their fists closed with a black glove and their heads lowered, in protest against the violation of african-american rights. In 1996, NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, during the American national anthem, remained in the locker room: according to the basketball player, the anthem would be a symbol of oppression. Other famous complaints were those in the football of players who, in protest against discriminatory and racist acts, left the field or made sensational gestures. A very famous one involved Kevin-Prince Boateng, who in 2013, in a friendly match against Pro Patria, after some racist insults in the middle of the game, picked up the ball and hustled it against the stand, from which the discriminations came. The voice of these athletes makes possible to highlight racism and in general highlight social issues with problems.  

During recent times the concept of player as influencer has been reported several times, that is, personalities who propagate their voice from the field even outside, and their gesture has a strong echo towards their colleagues and younger players. This tone has already been used in some cases to combat racism (such as Rashford, Sancho, Ozil or Mbappe), but more than anything, so far, they have been more opportunities to show themselves active on other sensitive issues (such as war, coronavirus, or certain political situations). If these players, given their tone, could find a form of cross-cutting communication that could bring them together to combat discrimination, a new form of kneeling, a new symbol, would be created. 

Interviewing  Mathieu Flamini he explained a crucial point of view: 

I have always said that footballers and athletes have a social responsibility, they are 100% fundamental in this regard. When an athlete has millions of followers you understand the impact that their message can have, and not just in football: they can have a positive impact to talk about important topics. Colin Kaepernick in this has been great. An athlete, in fact, can talk about everything from Black Lives Matter, to climate or education. Sport is one of the most important and followed platforms and it is normal that societies, athletes, we all have a social responsibility to have a positive impact and create a change of mentality. Football can help raise awareness, but climate change is an issue that goes further.

Bundesliga players take part in a powerful video against social media abuse towards players by reading messages from r/soccer

During the 1990s and 2000s - as Patta proposed again through a reference in his new SS21 collection - it was the institutions that were concerned with combating the phenomenon of racism, minus the players. However, individually, they have nevertheless become protagonists of important gestures, often through the jerseys. In the last ten years, however, the shirts under the game jerseys (as a Totti style) have become rarer occasions, also because today some federations punish those who take off their jerseys. In general, while Cancel Culture is not a particularly present phenomenon in football, showing a political banner or taking certain public positions can always lead to consequences. 

As Mark Gewisser wrote in The Guardian, "one of the hallmarks of life in the twenty-first century is the speed with which ideas propagate." The vector of football is too strong a channel not to be exploited, not only as a fight against discrimination in the sport, but also to raise awareness of the problem of racism throughout society. Whether it is a jersey or an exultation, it would be a fact taken up by all the media and on which a dense narrative would be created. It should be above all (if not primarily) the great footballers who do it, because they are the most iconic and the ones who can expose themselves best in the front row - in racism, there is no need to be afraid of being erased. On the contrary, if they are not the first to do so, there remains the doubt that kneeling may not be enough.