As we enter Pride Month, some of the recent events that have transpired in North America have made it quite evident that Pride will not be celebrated as it has been in the past. COVID-19 aside, the world is in a state of upheaval. After George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer, there have been countless scenes of political unrest happening across the continent.
There have been many instances where politics and sports have intersected, but perhaps now more than ever, it is vital for athletes to use their platform and speak up.
Floyd Mayweather is one example of an athlete stepping up in these difficult times. He will be covering the funeral costs of George Floyd. Mayweather contacted George Floyd’s family and they accepted his offer. Mayweather’s gesture is incredible, to say the least.
You cannot discuss the Black Lives Matter movement without including the actions of National Football League players, like Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick essentially blew up his career by taking a knee during national anthems, as a means of peaceful protest of the police brutality that black people face on a daily basis. More recently, Richard Sherman was extremely impressed by the number of white players speaking up, saying that their words sometimes carry more weight when heard by certain people. An example of a white player standing up and speaking out against the police brutality and the systemic racism in the United States is the first overall pick of the 2020 NFL draft, Joe Burrow.
Michael Jordan’s 10-part series, The Last Dance, has been the talk of the sports world since it debuted. He spoke out about the murder of George Floyd, saying: he’s “pained and plain angry”. Kobe Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, commented on the death of Floyd by posting a picture of Kobe wearing an “I Can’t Breathe” shirt, after the death of Eric Garner. George Floyd’s friend, and former NBA player, Stephen Jackson, also spoke out about the death of his friend.
The National Hockey League has had its own difficulties with racism lately. Akim Aliu stepped forward and reported on the racial slurs he endured from his own coach, Bill Peters, while he was an AHL player. Evander Kane of the San Jose Sharks called out his non-black peers in the NHL to speak out and feel as outraged as he does about this incident. Many other players offered their take on what is going on across North America. Carolina Hurricanes player Jaccob Slavin explained how he and his wife felt horrible that they turned a blind eye to racism until they adopted their daughter who is black. He said that they are committed to standing with people of colour to make the world a better, safer place. 14 of 16 Western Conference teams released statements of their own, or boosted their own players’ posts, while only 7 of 16 Eastern Conference teams did.
Marcus Stroman, Mookie Betts, Giancarlo Stanton and Andrew McCutchen were among several Major League Baseball players to speak out in response to the death of George Floyd. Miami Marlins’ CEO and 2020 Hall of Fame inductee, Derek Jeter, also took to social media to voice his take on systemic racism in the United States.
So, what’s next?
After his peaceful protest against the police brutality in the United States seemingly torpedoed his career, Colin Kaepernick still finds himself without a job in the NFL. When the NFL released their statement on the death of George Floyd, some players didn’t want to hear it. The NFL, since Kaepernick took a knee, has disallowed kneeling during the anthem. Even though Kaepernick worked out for a handful of teams last season, many called the work out a publicity stunt, meaning the NFL used the Kaepernick to make themselves look better.
When Evander Kane spoke out, he said that hockey is primarily a white sport. He isn’t wrong, but there is a growing number of people of colour either playing the game or enjoying it from the stands. When Akim Aliu came forward with allegations of racism that he endured as a member of an AHL team, the NHL was quick to act. The person who used racial slurs against Aliu was fired (but has since found work in the KHL in Russia).
Hopefully, the NHL’s swift response to these allegations is a sign of where the sports world is headed with respect to racism. It exists in society, but athletes have a platform from which to speak about this issue and bring it to light. With their voices amplified, it’s only a matter of time before athletes contribute to stamping out racism for good. Although it is no consolation to his family, hopefully, the name George Floyd will go down in history as the man whose death sparked real change in North America.