Often when I watch my team (Manchester City) on the TV, it’s now often accompanied by the players kneeling in support of Black Lives Matter at the beginning of the game. It was a powerful image when Aston Villa and Sheffield United did it at the beginning of their game after football restarted post-Lockdown 1.0. Now it is little more than virtue signalling. It has become so repeated and ingrained into the natural way of things that have become little more than an action at the start of a football match and not the message it was meant to be when initially conceived.
But that’s often the nature of politically radical movements in the age of virtue signalling. Suddenly, if you don’t support Black Lives Matter, you’re a racist. If you don’t get on one knee you don’t believe in a racially just society. It’s not healthy for our politics, and it's certainly not healthy for sport; the one arena I could usually always rely on for a bit of escapism from daily life. That’s not to say I disagree with the sentiment of kneeling at the start of matches.
There is racism in football, as the organisation Kick It Out has repeatedly made us aware and worked hard to try and eradicate. There is racism in society. We should, in the spirit of Thomas More, aim for that just and racially equal society in which colour is far less important than one’s character. And like many others, I found what happened to George Floyd an injustice of the highest order. Such things just shouldn’t be allowed to happen and the treatment of any person like that is wrong and it’s particularly true in the context of the politics of race in America.
So, in this sense, I am with the anti-racism movement one hundred percent. But I wouldn’t get on a knee at the start of a game and I wouldn’t say I support Black Lives Matter the organisation.
Far from achieving racial equality, the act of kneeling poses a far greater problem: a get out of jail free card. Though there have been small changes, notably more BAME pundits, there hasn’t been systemic change as is being demanded. Taking the knee, though this was not how its creators imagined it, is serving to cover up the injustices in football. It removes the spotlight from the problems and focuses on the virtue signalling itself. Little hard work and real change are occurring and that’s just a fact. Kneeling at the start of matches hasn’t produced much in the way of practical results and that’s surely what matters. Right?
I despise racism with every fibre of my being. But in reality, kneeling isn’t going to fight racism, but people doing the hard yards and fighting for change will.
Daniel is a political activist and an Associate Editor of Liberal Base. His interests are in populism, democratic crisis, western party politics and automation. He tweets @danny_hod and blogs at dannyhodson.com