Neil Humphreys: A simple act but a powerful gesture against racism
Bundesliga's Sancho and Thuram reach wider audience with anti-racism message
Jadon Sancho scribbled the name of a dead man on his shirt.
A young Englishman playing in Germany, he scored a fine goal in the Bundesliga and devoted his screen time to a tragedy in Minnesota.
He knew the world's cameras would be trained on his celebrations. They expected the usual fist pumping. He gave them something profound instead.
He gave black people another global platform, the kind beyond almost every politician and social activist. He amplified the message with a simple, handwritten slogan.
Justice for George Floyd.
With a single gesture, a 20-year-old forward at Borussia Dortmund captured the angry, exasperated mood of a fractured culture.
He said what others within his industry are seldom prepared to say. In fact, they are actively discouraged from making political statements.
Footballers' chests are supposed to be billboards, not placards. Shirts sell betting agencies and airlines. They do not promote empathy for the powerless.
But Sancho grew up in a racially volatile London neighbourhood. He wasn't prepared to squander his opportunity. He forced a worldwide audience to consider the words being screamed across the flames of American streets.
Black lives matter. All black lives, not just those playing in the Bundesliga, or those on the books at Liverpool, or those ruling Formula 1, or those confirming their immortal status on Netflix documentaries.
Sancho scribbled on his jersey. Borussia Moenchengladbach forward Marcus Thuram "took a knee". The whole Liverpool squad also "took a knee" at training, sending out a powerful message of unity.
Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton called upon the white-dominated F1 industry to take a stand. And Michael Jordan, so reluctant to address political issues in the past, condemned the "ingrained racism" in the United States, a country that is hardly unique in this regard.
They spoke up in their capacity as successful black sportspeople, which ensures that their lives matter to all racial groups, particularly white people. Floyd's life didn't.
He was another unarmed black man that died after being brutally restrained by armed white policemen. He was another heart-breaking news story until Sancho deliberately moved him to the sports pages.
It was a bold, selfless move.
Sportspeople, particularly footballers and especially black footballers, are expected to know their place within the established order. They are showy salesmen on behalf of a wholesome, sanitised, family-friendly product that is wilfully blind to societal fissures and political divisions.
As Jordan once pointed out, supposedly in jest, "Republicans buy sneakers, too."
So sportspeople are essentially neutered, in some cases literally so. Sports bodies will often sanction acts of politicking and fine athletes for raising fists, dropping knees or brandishing slogans, whatever their political leanings.
The basic rules of capitalism in sport were always straightforward. Entertain the punters, take the money and shut up. Any public utterances should only involve words like "spirit", "commitment" and "the lads".
FIX THE PROBLEMS
But the lads are woke now. The trouble is, most of them are black. As Hamilton pointed out in his excoriating Instagram post, why are the biggest stars in his wealthy, white-dominated sport staying quiet? Why indeed.
In any industry, only the racial majority can fix the problems of inherent racial privilege because they are the direct beneficiaries. The power to make change is theirs alone.
Instead, the opposite tack has often been taken. Those with the influence to make a positive difference are often the first to say that sport and politics do not mix.
When NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick dropped a knee in protest against police brutality, he was lambasted for using a sporting arena to make such a statement, which conveniently overlooked the fact that minorities rarely have any other outlets at their disposal.
Sport, art and music are the few spheres of influence available to people of colour and footballers, in particular, are acutely aware of their reach now.
Sancho and Thuram are the first social media generation in the game, the first footballers who cannot remember a time before they had instant access to their fan base. They have an unfiltered line of communication that was rarely available to Jordan or even Hamilton in the early stages of his career.
They know how to play the social media game. They have too many followers to silence. Their voices are as relevant as they are necessary. When others go low, they go viral.
And now, these courageous, thoughtful young men deserve some company.
Black footballers should not be pressured to tone it down. On the contrary, they need more white footballers to speak up.