×

We've got news for you.

Register on SowetanLIVE at no cost to receive newsletters, read exclusive articles & more.
Register now

Black Lives Matter moves from protest to action for athletes in 2021

People hold Black Lives Matter posters gathering at a repaired mural of England footballer Marcus Rashford by the artist known as AKSE_P19, which is displayed on the wall of a cafe on Copson Street, Withington, Manchester, on July 13, 2021. AKSE_P19 repaired the image after it was defaced by vandals in the aftermath of England's Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy two days before. Rashford and other Black players in England's national football team were the target of racist abuse, largely on social media, after the team's Euro final defeat.
People hold Black Lives Matter posters gathering at a repaired mural of England footballer Marcus Rashford by the artist known as AKSE_P19, which is displayed on the wall of a cafe on Copson Street, Withington, Manchester, on July 13, 2021. AKSE_P19 repaired the image after it was defaced by vandals in the aftermath of England's Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy two days before. Rashford and other Black players in England's national football team were the target of racist abuse, largely on social media, after the team's Euro final defeat.
Image: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement marched on in 2021 but to the beat of a quieter drum as sport moved from protest to action by implementing some of the change athletes helped put in the spotlight.

From tennis courts to soccer pitches and Formula One starting grids, athletes took their protests into the living rooms of sports fans around the world in 2020. But this year it was away from the arenas and stadiums and in the boardrooms where BLM attempted to have an impact.

If any league or team in North America did not have a diversity and inclusion department last year most did in 2021, pressured by athletes and fans to come up with plans to address social justice issues.

“What we are trying to do is position our league as a league for the new America,” said Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber, making diversity a central plank in his annual state-of-league address.

“We all have to have an awakening of what happened over the last year and ensure we are doing our part.

“Our diversity hiring initiative is bold, it's not going to be easy but it is our attempt at making a difference.”

Athletes around the world rose up in 2020 by joining together to show their outrage over racial injustice triggered by the death of George Floyd, a black man gasping for air and calling for his mother as a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Floyd’s death forced a reckoning about racial injustice and gave a global profile to the BLM movement that has emerged in recent years to protest against the deaths of African Americans in police custody.

Athletes in much smaller numbers and with less frequency continued to take a knee or raise fists this year. However, there were none of the headline-making displays such as those by Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka at the US Open where she wore a mask with the name of a different Black American victim of police brutality before each of her matches.

In 2021, the Black Lives Matter message had become part of the game-day experience, with “End Racism” on the back of NFL football helmets and cleats and on the steering wheels of Formula One cars.

While athlete mental health became the dominant storyline at the Tokyo Olympics, some of those competing at the Games took advantage of performing on the world's biggest sporting stage to keep the BLM movement in the spotlight. Members of the women's soccer teams of Britain, the US, Sweden and New Zealand all took the knee before their opening matches to raise awareness about greater racial equality in sport.

“From our perspective it's been rewarding to see the activity that many of the leagues are taking on beyond awareness,” Trovon Williams, spokesperson for the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) said.

“Awareness is great and we appreciate that but the action to change many of the scenarios we saw play out over the last 18 months, that's where we need the most assistance.”


Would you like to comment on this article? Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

Commenting is subject to our house rules.