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American football stars take on racial discrimination in tense election year

Colin Kaepernick, a biracial star of American football, started it; President Barack Obama endorsed it; and now one of the top teams of the game’s premier championship is threatening to join what is rapidly turning into the country’s most visible protest against racial discrimination and injustice.

world Updated: Sep 09, 2016 14:11 IST
Yashwant Raj
Colin Kaepernick

American footballer Russell Wilson of Seattle Seahawks huddles with his team during their preseason game on September 1, 2016 in Oakland, California. The Seahawks are expected to stage a silent protest against racial discrimination in their game on Sunday.(AFP Photo)

Colin Kaepernick, a biracial star of American football, started it; President Barack Obama endorsed it; and now one of the top teams of the game’s premier championship is threatening to join what is rapidly turning into the country’s most visible protest against racial discrimination and injustice.

Seahawks of Seattle, Washington, a team that won the championship in 2014 and finished second in 2015, will join Kaepernick’s protest, US media reported citing unidentified sources. Their is their first game of the season when they play Miami Dolphins of Miami, Florida, on Sunday, which is expected to be one of the most watched TV events in recent times.

Member of the Seahawks team, led by African American Russell Wilson, will stage a silent but unspecified form of protest as a team, and not individuals, information leaked by members of the team said, during the singing of the national anthem, a standard practice at all major public events in the US, from sports to politics.

They will probably not stand during the anthem, as Kaepernick.

These protests mark a new high in racial tensions triggered by unwarranted violence against African Americans by white police officers, resulting in multiple fatalities, such as that of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in recent years and others.

There have also been retaliatory killings of white offers, as in Dallas, Texas in July.

Read | 5 cops dead in Dallas shooting amid protests over killing of black men

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump may have contributed to these tension in part by not repudiating support from white supremacists and dog-whistling support for those opposing Black Lives Matter, a modern day incarnation of the civil rights movement of the 1960s — its opponents say, “All lives matter”. And Trump supports them.

Kaepernick first refused to stand for the national anthem late August in a pre-championship game against another top-notch team, the Green Bay packers of Wisconsin. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour,” he said in an interview to the league’s in-house magazine, adding, “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.”

For some perspective here: American football is not the football as it is known in India and the rest of the world. They call that game soccer here, and portray it as the softer and, thus, safer version of their more physical football, skipping mention of the multi-piece tip-to-toe body armor that protects footballers.

But the game, despite its recent fall in grace on safety issues, is more than a match for cricket’s popularity in India. And the National Football League, the organization that runs the sport, is said to have inspired the Indian league. And Kaepernick, the star is someone like Suresh Raina or Rohit Sharma, a big crowd puller but not in the same league as Virat Kohl or M S Dhoni.

Read | Shootings of black men symptomatic of racial disparities: Obama

Kaepernick, who has been booed at his team’s games and attacked as unpatriotic by critics, found support recently from President Obama, who said, during his visit to to China for the G-20 summit: “He’s exercising his constitutional right to make a statement. I think there’s a long history of sports figures doing so. I think there are a lot of ways you can do it. As a general matter, when it comes to the flag and the National Anthem, and the meaning that that holds for our men and women in uniform and those who fought for us, that is a tough thing for them to get past to then hear what his deeper concerns are.

“But I don’t doubt his sincerity, based on what I’ve heard.”

And now the Seahawks.