Philadelphia players’ bold BLM move means more than Redskins’ name-change
Each week I focus on a different sport from across the pond, looking at an incident or issue and try to give my view on it. Sometimes I’m ahead of the curve and sometimes I’m wide of the mark, but, hey, even the best baseball players only hit the ball once in every three at-bats, and I feel like I’m batting way above .300.
A few weeks ago I wrote about why now had to be the time for the NFL to change the name of the Washington team and today the NFL formally announced the name will be changed, although due to a copyright issue they haven’t yet revealed a new name.
In the past few days Major League Soccer returned with its Orlando-based bubble, where they’ve tried to create a mini World Cup. Teams will compete in a group phase, before the games move into a knockout tournament which culminates on 11 August with the MLS Final.
The “MLS is Back” tournament got off to a rocky start. One of the opening-day games was called off then two of the 26 teams pulled out altogether due to Covid-19 outbreaks in their squads.
Needless to say, personal safety is the priority and not just for the players. The well-being of the staff of the resorts, media crew and anyone else involved in the tournament must be taken into consideration – although with the current situation across the US and a President in denial of the crisis, those people may be safer in this bubble.
Like all the returning sports across the world, the current Black Lives Matter movement is being actively supported by players and the MLS was no different, with players kneeling. New Montreal Impact coach and Arsenal legend Thierry Henry “took a knee” for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the same time that a police officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck.
In their first game back, the Philadelphia Union team went a step further and replaced the names of the players on their jerseys with those of victims of police brutality. The move was a bold step. While the MLS is happy for players and teams to get involved and use their platforms, there are guidelines.
Philadelphia stepped outside of these and before the league had a chance to comment Union manager Jim Curtin stated his pride in his players. “The idea today was action over permission; I hope the league understands that,” he said.
The MLS has yet to respond or sanction Union publicly, but it raises the question: do the league offices have too much control?
If we learned anything from the tidal wave of support for Washington’s name change in the NFL, it’s that public opinion matters very little but when the dollars and cents are affected organisations listen.
Washington will change their name, not because it’s the right thing to do, but because Nike, the official NFL merchandise supplier, pulled Washington’s items from its stores and sites, Amazon followed and Fed-Ex, the stadium sponsor, threatened to remove its sponsorship too.
Basketball, ice hockey and baseball are set to return over the next 30 days and all have agreed to have set messages that players can choose to use on the field. Then you have the NFL, where the players have the least control over their apparel.
In recent years the NFL has fined players for wearing hats that support charities the NFL doesn’t have contracts with, Brandon Marshall was once fined for wearing the wrong colour shoes – he wore green to support Mental Health Awareness. Players have even been fined for wearing the wrong type of headphones.
The NBA has given a preapproved message that players can put on their jerseys and LeBron James has decided to opt-out. But James’s choice is right because if he wants to say something, he wants it to be his voice, not that of a corporate marketing team.
Sponsors may have forced a name change in Washington but until they can let the players truly speak their voice, or show their messages, these developments are nothing more than lip service. They are nothing more than a ploy, something to appease the fans, generate good PR and, most importantly, protect the profit margins.
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