From Muhammad Ali resisting army induction to the US-Vietnam war, to the cricket boycott of South Africa’s apartheid regime, the intersectionality of sport and politics is apparent across generations. Those that denounce such a relationship are both historically and currently misinformed. This misinformation, and consequent misunderstanding, engulfing the rhetoric concerning sports and politics must be tackled.
Additionally, we must also look at the impact political rhetoric has on the formation of identity and how the sport industry plays a pivotal role in promulgating political narrative to the masses. The notion of external forces shaping identity is one that resonates for young British Muslims. This article aims to address the current debate centering on the #takeaknee protest that is disseminating throughout the National Football League (NFL) in the US through the lens of a young British Muslim.
When observing the sports industry, the sheer scope of influence and responsibility for those actively involved in this arena must not be overlooked. The reception of such high profile, politically fuelled protests are polarized both across and within global, national and local borders. However, what must be noted, is the difference in the scope and reach of social movements fuelled by the hybridity of sport and political narrative in this postmodern technological age. The relatively new phenomena of viral content on social media allows for a multiplier effect when gaining traction from the masses. Again, the way in which this is received by the masses remains versatile.
The #takeaknee social movement that has coalesced both physically and virtually, is a product of NFL player Colin Kaepernick’s stance against police brutality and injustice experienced by the African American community throughout the nation. Through kneeling, rather than standing, for the American national anthem, Kaepernick defied American tradition in attempts to use his platform to voice the oppressive reality of African Americans.
This form of peaceful protest not only highlights the problem at hand, but acts as an empowering force to enhance the organised efforts of others that are actively addressing the same issue, or issues that relate. In this context, it can be seen that the Black Lives Matter social movement in America has been propelled into established multi-billion dollar industries, such as sport, film and TV, and into governmental social agenda.
The past week has seen President Trump address the increasing number of players, staff and executive bodies that ‘take a knee’ during the national anthem before NFL team games.
The rejection of this movement from an administrative level is evident through callous remarks from the President that have been directed to those individuals who are deemed to have ‘disrespected the flag and nation’ by kneeling during the national anthem. These incredibly strong words are not surprising coming from Trump’s twitter account, but what is surprising is the social media storm that followed.
The public unrest, on both sides of the spectrum, grapples with aspects of identity, furthers the polarisation of already marginalised groups, and heightens the profile of engineered inequality and injustice ravaging social and institutional domains. These three aspects are all too common for Muslims in the West. As social and institutional injustice in Europe is adopting more of a religious, rather than ethnic undertone, we are increasingly aware of and experiencing injustices that our African American counterparts experience on a heightened scale. Therefore, we must not only acknowledge their plight, but encourage greater positive rhetoric and action for social movements focussed on social justice reforms.
Silence when observing oppression renders those that adopt either apathy or ignorance in a similar bracket to that of the oppressor. The recognition of struggle and injustices is reciprocal. As Muslims encourage others to understand their difficulties and challenge negative stereotyping, it is critical that this right is also afforded by Muslims to marginalised communities experiencing strife and ongoing racial injustice across the pacific and the wider world. The profound impact of the sports industry when shaping identity, specifically with regards to national identity, has much to do with how sports has been integrated into popular culture. What #takeaknee has achieved is not simply the access to influence mainstream rhetoric, but given way for the intersection of narrative on injustice and popular culture.
There is a lot to learn from Kaepernick’s kneel, and the entirety of the Black Lives Matter movement, to not simply shape social movements, but to acknowledge the importance of representation and recognition in major industries, to organise and execute real rhetoric and to ultimately stand united in the face of oppression. As Muslims, there is a specific moral and religious duty to speak out against inequality, injustice and oppressions. The #takeaknee movement should inspire us to stand united for equality and humanity and encourage those of us with prominence and influence within the community, namely our religious leadership, to use their platforms as conduits to address injustices and encourage social action.
By Munibah Qureshi
Policy and Social Impact Editor