The NFL continues to stagger through a moral maze which is becoming increasingly more difficult to navigate.
Domestic violence and child abuse by players have already sparked such outrage and consternation in the land of the free that this week a special Senate meeting was called in Washington DC to discuss how to deal with the matters moving forward.
Yet, the actions of five St. Louis Rams’ players last Sunday has powerfully ignited a new debate which is touching every corner of the United States.
When Jared Cook, Kenny Britt, Stedman Bailey, Chris Givens and Tavon Austin walked out at the Edward Jones Dome to take on the Oakland Raiders, they lifted up their arms to produce the ‘Hands up, don’t shoot’ message in protest of the killing of the unarmed Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson, Missouri by police officer Darren Wilson last August, a nation was stopped in its tracks once more.
It was a powerful statement, the likes of which stars in other sports, most notably soccer, would never have seen the light of day.
In the wake of England batsman Moeen Ali wearing a ‘Save Gaza’ wristband earlier this summer, FIFA and UEFA warned that anyone using a pitch to demonstrate their political feelings will be reprimanded. They don’t want their precious players getting involved and ruining the chances of their beautiful game and its incessant flow of money continually filling their bulging pockets. Keep it shut was the message.
In America, however , it’s different. There’s a history of sporting icons taking to the grandest stages of them all to make statements which would reverberate like never before.
Muhammad Ali refusing to serve in Vietnam and the famous Black Power salutes of John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the 1968 Olympics are seen as landmark moments. And the list goes on.
Over two years ago, LeBron James, then at the Miami Heat, posted a picture with the rest of the squad all bowing their heads with their hoods up in a display of solidarity for murdered Floridian teenager Trayvon Martin.
The LA Clippers showed public indignation for the racist comments made by former owner Donald Sterling during last season’s play-offs.
Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan never became embroiled in similar situations but the new generation are starting to speak out.
“It doesn’t matter if you are an athlete or not,” said NBA superstar James. “If you feel passionately about it then you have the right to speak about it.”
The St. Louis Rams’ players should be commended. It took guts. It also proved the idolised millionaires had not lost sight of the trials and tribulations ravaging the communities from where they were raised.
Naturally, caution should be advised. The officer in question was not charged and the NFL, who have come under increasing fire following the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson scandals, don’t want to see their stars advocating violence or retribution. The message is all members of law enforcement are not evil.
The St. Louis Police Officers Association business manager Jeff Roorda demanded a “very public” apology and for the five players to be disciplined.
Yet there were no fines issued, no sanctions or castigations. A horribly sensitive situation was handled well by the under-pressure suits in the National Football League’s corridors of power.
For African-American athletes, who comprise 70 per cent of players in the NFL, the problems in Ferguson are close to their hearts.
Delving through the wreckage of the horrible aftermath in Ferguson, it becomes brutally clear that the issues involved are ones of social and racial divides which run far too deep for sports pages.
Yet one pertinent question can be asked.
What is more beneficial to society? A video of an athlete superficially grinning while downing a flavoured sports drink or one where a statement is made for the greater good?
Sportsmen using their brains should never be discouraged.
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