One of the many bizarre events we experienced this summer was seeing professional athletes playing every day, committed to finishing the season brutally suspended during the hard months of lockdown in spring. Beyond the sports results and the unpublished calendars, two visible factors have arisen alongside this surge of summer sport: firstly, the absence of supporters using facilities due to social distancing is still necessary since the pandemic, unfortunately, shows no sign of slowing down globally. Secondly, an incredibly notable event has been the importance people have given to social issues, not only at a league and associations level but at an individual athlete level as well.
A major contributing factor has certainly been George Floyd’s murder, which has consequentially raised the global awareness of how severe the racial issue is in sport and society, as well as just how much the public ought to, once for all, take a strong stand against it and eradicate it. An awareness, which, in regard to sport has been unprecedented in recent history.
In the beginning, it was the players involved in the German Bundesliga, the first athletes to return to the field. In the days following the Floyd case, players were seen kneeling before the games and after scoring goals in solidarity with the protests that exploded in the United States and then in the rest of the world. A gesture which the Premier League, the most followed football championship in the world, has even decided to institutionalise, giving time for the two teams, the staff and the referees to kneel before the match. To reinforce this message, something else happened: instead of their names, the players went down to the field, in the first days of June, with the words “Black Lives Matter” written on the club’s shirts. A choice – of using writing on uniforms to convey social messages – also adopted by the NBA, since early August: each player, instead of their name, was able to choose a word that had to do with a specific social issue to be printed instead of their name. Previously, it was Mercedes' turn in Formula 1 with the decision to support Lewis Hamilton's commitment to fight racism and to race with black cars instead of traditional silver.
While this stand of solidarity was so visible and shared across the sporting world, it also raised doubts and controversies regarding its real usefulness. There were many arguments against this, especially with one case: that of Lebron James, who has also always been in the front row in the fight for the African American community’s rights, who chose to play with his name on the back of his shirt, thus explaining: "I actually didn't go with a name on the back of my jersey. It was no disrespect to the list that was handed out to all the players. I commend anyone that decides to put something on the back of their jersey. It's just something that didn't really seriously resonate with my mission, with my goal... I don't need to have something on the back of my jersey for people to understand my mission or know what I'm about and what I'm here to do."
Net of a certain tendency towards marketing and the pursuit of trends, which is natural for a world around which many interests revolve, it can only be considered a very positive fact that important stages like this use their platforms to convey these kinds of messages, especially when accompanied by the commitment of a new generation of champions who are not afraid of taking sides and in the most positive cases, of being proactive.