Is sport the place for protests?

MANUS BOYLE COLUMN

Is sport the place for protests?

A few weeks back Colin Kaepernick, a quarter back for the San-Francisco 49ers in America’s N.F.L., went down on one knee for the national anthem in protest.

As you can imagine, it created a storm of protest from all over the United States. Some burned his jersey but others were of the opinionthat he was entitled to his freedom to express his views. Kapernick refused to stand for the national anthem because in his own words, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour”.

When asked a few days later if he would continue his protest, he said he would. Kaepernick is not the first sports star to involve himself in social or political issues but when you consider many of the incidents that have occurred in the cities across the US this last while it is indeed brave.

Also, as a free agent last year, he was able to sign a very lucrative contract. Such protests could be seen as a breach of contract, but so far his club have stood with him.

There are many who would argue that sport is not the place for such protests but over the years there have been many and it could be said those very same protests have changed the way people around the world have changed their opinions on certain matters.

Take the Olympics of 1968 in Mexico. Two American sprinters, Tommie Smith and John Carlos won gold and bronze medals respectively. When they went to the podium to collect their medals they wore no shoes to mark black poverty. Smith wore a black scarf for black pride, Carlos wore a string of beads, for all those who were lynched and the two wore a black glove each.

The two athletes were immediately thrown out of the Games and sent home. Three more African American sprinters who won medals wore black berets in solidarity with their team-mates. It sent shock waves around the world and helped change opinion.

Of course there have been plenty other incidents closer to home. Take the Liverpool Dockers strike of 1995, where five dock workers were sacked over an overtime issue. Five hundred other workers walked out in support, the strike lasted 850 days but was brought to the attention of the world by one of Robbie Fowler’s goal celebrations. The Liverpool striker was later fined by U.E.F.A for the celebration but Fowler won the hearts of many for the gesture.

I wonder what the opinion would be of those across this country if Gaelic footballers or hurlers were to make such statements.

How would it be received if one of the Dublin players decided that they were going to wear a tee shirt in support of the many homeless children in the country’s capital, or indeed if one of the Mayo lads pulled on a tee shirt in support of the many fishermen who lost fishing rights during the Corrib gas dispute?

Those running our games might not like the idea of such events occurring but it has become increasingly more common for highly recognised sports personalities to involve themselves in day to day stories.

Don’t be surprised in the future if, for one reason or another, there is a message of support or a call for change underneath a county jersey.

Sunday’s game

As the Mayo supporters head to Dublin for Sunday’s clash with Dublin, do they do so in hope, or in fear.

Over the last few years, the Mayo fans have become used to their team getting so far in the All Ireland, only to come up short.

This year however, they have not blazed the trail. Galway sent them packing in the Connacht championship, they struggled to get over the line against Fermanagh in the first of the qualifiers but they progressed none the less.

They have got over the line in every challenge that has come their way without ever hitting the ground running and for once they have kept the lead-up to this year’s final under the radar as much as it is possible.

The players have lead the way. Remember at the start of the year they served last year’s management team with a notice of no confidence and after a bit of turmoil the county board put a new man in place.

They struggled throughout the national league and as I have already said, they have not put in a good 70 minutes during the summer. But can they finally get over the line, so could it be their year?

They face the might of what has been the best team of the last 30 years or more.

This Dublin side have taken the game to a new level, they have learned to break down the blanket defence and have managed to set themselves up in a way that they are hard to beat.

But they still have that attacking force that makes them the force they are.

The challenge for Mayo is not whether or not they have the ability to beat the Dubs on Sunday, but more that they really believe deep down that they can win it.

It should be a good one.