Spectator sport

All power to the NFL knee protest

30 September 2017

9:00 AM

30 September 2017

9:00 AM

The history of sport and political protest in this country would be a slim old volume. It would feature quite a bit of Robbie Fowler, the Liverpool striker, who once lifted his shirt after scoring to reveal a Calvin Klein T-shirt which said ‘Support the Dockers’ using the ‘C’ and ‘K’ of the fashion logo. He might have been misguided — those dockers had been on strike, as they always seemed to be, and they did a fair bit to bring down (temporarily) the great city of Liverpool — but Fowler was a terrific player and an all-round good guy. He once persuaded a ref to revoke a penalty and later made an elaborate show of snorting the touchline. He also bought up more or less every bit of property in Liverpool: hence the terrace anthem, to the tune of ‘Yellow Submarine’: ‘We all live in a Robbie Fowler house…’

In general our sportsmen are discouraged from being political. They devote their energies to being brand ambassadors for watches or whiskies or motor cars. There was a brief skirmish recently over football teams, especially England, wearing the Remembrance Day poppy. After trying to ban this as ‘political’, Fifa eventually backed down.

It is precisely because sport can have such power that we should all applaud the ‘taking the knee’ protest during the singing of the national anthem that has swept the National Football League in America. Indeed I would take the knee myself if I thought I could get up again. The protest started a year ago when Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers, knelt during the anthem to raise awareness of police brutality against young African-Americans. It was not a protest about Trump; it was a protest about race. But nobody gave a damn and since then Kaepernick can barely get work.

But the protest took off a few days ago when, quite out of the blue and presumably as a diversionary tactic from god knows what, President Trump called on football club owners to suspend any players who protested during the national anthem, and added a little spice by calling the players ‘sons of bitches’.

The vast majority of American football players are black. Nearly all the owners are white, but they don’t like being told what to do, even by another billionaire. So far no protesting player has been fired for kneeling, or linking arms as they did as last Sunday’s matches, including — spectacularly — in London. This is all about race, and we must hope that Trump doesn’t get his way.

How much more can one love Ben Stokes? Not only is he the best cricketer in the world, but it looks like he wasn’t prepared to take any nonsense from anyone in Bristol who may have given him a bit of gyp after that fabulous one-day victory at the weekend. We can’t be certain what happened that led to his arrest on suspicion of assault at 2.30 a.m., but anyone picking a fight with Ben Stokes wants their head examined.

We are sadly familiar with the sometimes heartbreaking tales of how top-line sports folk cope with filling the hours once they step away from the limelight. Sitting at home watching Homes Under the Hammer perhaps; or checking the cricket scores to see whether Somerset have finessed that elusive bowling bonus point.

No such problems for Usain Bolt: he has taken to a boat in the crystalline waters of the Caribbean along with his girlfriend Kasi. She, it turns out, is a most comely and well–upholstered gal with a keen liking for taking her own picture. She looks capable of bringing out a sub-ten-second performance in most of us. Though probably not the great man himself, who looks set for a marathon.

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