Authored by the team ‘The Masked Bloggers’: Christopher Nash, Corey Ward, Gavin McLeod, Alistair Rigg, Richard Davies, Laurie Adam, Laura Kelly, June Lloyd, and Azur Allison [E119 21J students].
This blog was written as part of a collaborative teamwork task by students studying E119. They had to select a topic and then decide on what roles each person would perform in the team, such as researcher, writer, editor, and leader. This blog was chosen as one of the best blogs from around 70 blogs that were produced.
The media coverage of football players taking the knee before games to make a stand against racial injustice filled our TV’s and newspapers as it became common practice in the latter half of 2020. Reflecting over the last 18 months, has it made any difference to racism in football?
The movement famously began with Colin Kaepernick in the NFL back in 2016, but after the tragic events of 2020 and the death of George Floyd in police custody, footballer’s felt it was their duty to use their public status to show their support for the Black Lives Matter campaign in the stand against racial injustice and police brutality (Sky News, 2021).
Has taking the knee made any difference?
If the sole aim of taking the knee was to raise the conversation around racial injustice, police brutality, and systemic racism in football and wider society, then yes it has done as intended (Sky News, 2021). It has encouraged players to be openly vocal about issues in the game, whether that be racial abuse or a general underrepresentation of black people in the sport. On that point, Tony Burnett, Head of Football’s Anti-Racism Organisation ‘Kick it Out’, states that compared to the number of professional players from a black background, around 30%, the number in senior roles from the same background is ‘nowhere near enough’ (Mercer, 2021). Is this underrepresentation a systemic issue that will require more than taking a knee before games to open opportunities in football to individuals from black communities?
However, while taking the knee may have raised the conversation about racial injustice, there has been little change to the level of racism in football. Professional football players remain targets for racial abuse on social media; Birmingham striker Troy Deeney claims he receives 30-40 incidents of abuse a week (Mercer, 2021). Plans to put an end to this sort of abuse are in motion, legislation that would hold social media companies legally responsible for the online safety of their users would encourage them to crackdown on users sending racial abuse online (Murphy, 2022: Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport et al, 2021).
The problem facing those who wish to bring an end to racism in football is that it’s a problem that transcends football. Former footballer John Barnes believes that the key to dealing with racism is to change “the perception of the average black person” (Mercer, 2021). Making change at societal level is what will lead to removing racism in football. Burnett went on to argue that the conversation around taking the knee has led to distracting society from the real conversations that could bring about change. Burnett added to this suggesting we need to talk about “where [racism] comes from, how it manifests in our society and what we need to be doing to tackle it” which he believes is not being talked about enough (Mercer, 2021).
Even current players within the game argue that taking the knee has lost its potency, with Chelsea defender Marcus Alonso believing it has “lost its strength’ (Mercer, 2021), while Crystal Palace’s Wilfred Zaha felt it was ‘degrading’ to take the knee (Sky News, 2021). Surely if those taking part struggle to see any benefit of taking the knee, it could be suggested that it is not making any real difference to the cause it was intended to support.
A positive outlook on taking the knee
Although there has been controversy around taking the knee in football and whether this is having a positive effect on the issues revolving around racism in football, there is also research to support the cause. Taking the knee before kick-off can make a difference to the issues highlighted above, and by raising awareness. If taking the knee ceased, would racism in football become an issue that is ignored? Tyrone Mings, Aston Villa defender and England International, contends that taking the knee has been extremely important to keep discussions about racism relevant (Sky News, 2021). According to youGov, 61% of individuals in Great Britain from ethnically diverse backgrounds thought the gesture made an important contribution to tackling racism (Sky News, 2021). From professional athletes to professional surveys, it is apparent to see that there are still many within the population who think that taking the knee holds its importance in helping to tackle the issues around racism within football.
Taking the knee has also been deemed important as it psychologically informs the younger population who may idolise footballers who are participating in the gesture. Petnga-Wallace (2021) states that “For young children, who may idolise Bukayo Saka or Jack Grealish, seeing their football role models taking an active position against racism may encourage them to be anti-racist’. As young children are heavily influenced by their footballing idols, surely there can be no argument that the gesture of taking the knee can only positively impact our future generation.
So, what can be done?
The racial injustice in football will not go away by itself, wholesale changes must be made to increase inclusivity and to punish those who racially abuse players and/or staff. It’s generally being agreed that taking the knee has lost some of its impetus in challenging these issues. What’s left to be seen is how governments use legislation and we in society implement the change necessary to rid the ‘beautiful game’ of its ugly reputation.
Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, Home Office, and The Rt Hon Oliver Dowden CBE MP (2021), Landmark laws to keep children safe, stop racial hate and protect democracy online published. Available at:
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/landmark-laws-to-keep-children-safe-stop-racial-hate-and-protect-democracy-online-published (Accessed: 16 January 2022).
Mercer, D. (2021) Why increasing number of footballers have stopped taking the knee Available at: https://news.sky.com/story/footballers-taking-the-knee-isnt-going-to-change-anything-says-ex-england-star-so-whats-the-future-of-the-protest-12432154 (Accessed: 16 January 2022).
Murphy, A. (2022) How Has Football Tackled Racism. Available at: https://www.masterstudies.com/article/how-has-football-tackled-racism/ (Accessed: 16 January 2022).
Petnga-Wallace, P. (2021) Taking the Knee is No Empty Gesture But a Symbol of Righteous Indignation. Available at: https://www.shoutoutuk.org/2021/07/19/taking-the-knee-is-no-empty-gesture-but-a-symbol-of-righteous-indignation/ (Accessed: 24 January 2022)
Sky News, (2021) Wilfred Zaha to stop taking the knee as ‘degrading’ gesture ‘no longer enough’. Available at: https://news.sky.com/story/wilfried-zaha-to-stop-taking-the-knee-as-degrading-gesture-no-longer-enough-12222539 (Accessed: 16 January 2022).
Sky News, (2021) Football fans split on whether taking a knee helps racism – survey. Available at: https://news.sky.com/story/amp/football-fans-split-on-whether-taking-a-knee-helps-tackle-racism-survey-12329006 (Accessed: 23 January 2022).