What is the role of sports in fighting racial injustices? Over the past two weeks there have been protests around the world standing up for the Black Lives Matter movement and standing up against racism.
Before I get into how sport can be used to fight racial injustice, I want to say that sport alone is not going to stop racism in our society. Some of the changes that our society needs are (this is certainly not an exhaustive list): large scale reparations, redistribution of wealth, public education reform, defunding the police, criminal justice system reform, tighter gun control, affordable housing, food policy reform (nutritious lunches in schools, limiting desserts), more and better access to recreational programs (like sports, music and arts), better and more equal access to health care. We have to address poverty. Social programs need more funding and the policy needs to be there to back it up. There needs to be structural reform in essentially every aspect of how our society operates to help address the inequalities that are staring at us in the face. Systematic racism is a huge problem in our society. Our policy makers need the courage to address these issues even if they don’t win elections. It is the job of government’s to make the lives of citizens better.
The city of Saint John, New Brunswick’s entire budget for art & culture, sports & recreation facilities services, community development service grants, and recreation, parks and cultural programming was $6,851,543, while the city’s police services budget was $26,058,539. When we address crime and violence in our society, we are not addressing the issues, we are addressing the symptoms of the issues. The issues are things like poverty, poor health, education. We need to address those issues. Sport and recreation programs can help address these issues.
Sports are a form of protest. Athletes use their platform to advocate for justice and social issues. This is a way that sport can have a social impact. Even now, when sports are currently all on pause, athletes still have platforms and voices that can be used to amplify the message of advocates and activists, and bring change. Athletes can advocate for and highlight the inequalities and bring it to the forefront of the conversation. Athletes have a lot of power to raise awareness and fight for equality.
Here are some ways that sports have been used as a form or protest:
There have been countless other examples of sport being used to protest injustice and inequalities. Sport is political, and always has been. Sport can create change by raising awareness to social issues and injustices. Sport can be used to make a statement.
It would be inexcusable to not point out that sport is also part of the problem. Many professional sport team names are racist. The Edmonton Eskimos, the Washington Redskins, Cleveland Indians, Florida State Seminoles. And this is not just a North American issue. Sport team names around the world are using team names and mascots derived from indigenous peoples. In Sweden, the Malmö Redhawks. For many years, indigenous peoples could not perform their cultural and ceremonial dances and practices their traditions all the while sport teams were named after them. These names are a byproduct of colonialism. Sport can help fight racial injustice by changing these names.
We need change. What is the “normal” that people want to go back to after COVID-19? I want to go back to a more just society. The “normal” isn't working.