The Journal Gazette
 
 
Wednesday, June 03, 2020 1:00 am

Sports stars speak out worldwide

STEVE DOUGLAS | Associated Press

Players who scored in the German and Hungarian soccer leagues removed their jerseys to display undershirts with the words: “Justice for George Floyd.”

Others from English soccer clubs Liverpool, Chelsea and Newcastle dropped to one knee during practice in a clear gesture of support.

In New Zealand, a Nigerian-born UFC fighter addressed a crowd of 4,000, imploring those listening to “speak up” and take peaceful action to register their discontent.

Dismayed by the death of Floyd and inspired by the actions of Colin Kaepernick, athletes from around the world have come together during one of the most politically charged periods in modern history.

“I can't tolerate. I won't tolerate. WE WON'T TOLERATE,” Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba, one of the world's most famous soccer players and a World Cup champion with France, wrote on his Instagram page to his 41 million followers alongside a picture of him looking to the sky with a clenched right fist.

It was powerful image to accompany the picture of 29 Liverpool players kneeling around the center circle at Anfield Stadium at the end of a practice session on Monday. Or the entire Chelsea squad kneeling down and forming the letter “H” – for humans – during training on Tuesday.

Their actions mimicked the one made by Kaepernick during the national anthem in 2016 in silent protest of police brutality and racism while then playing for the San Francisco 49ers.

Kaepernick's gesture didn't gain a stronghold worldwide.

Not like the killing of Floyd, a black man and former community college basketball player who died after a white police officer pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and stopped pleading for air.

“It hit a nerve in this very particular time, which I think made people all around the world reflect on the environment we live, not only in the U.S. but in all kinds of places where there is a perpetuation of discrimination and inequality,” Jonas Baer-Hoffmann, secretary general of global soccer players union FIFPro, told The Associated Press.

“We're seeing a generation of players right now moving into the steps of athletes in the past who were socially quite engaged and willing to put themselves behind causes they care about. I think it's incredibly empowering to see these players step forward and share in that fight for a better society.”

Emboldened soccer players appear to be more confident in speaking out about racism than ever before, including Jadon Sancho, who revealed a handwritten “Justice for George Floyd” message on his undershirt after scoring a goal for Borussia Dortmund on Sunday, openly and knowingly flouting the rules.

Marcus Rashford, a black striker for Manchester United, called for justice for Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor – two other black people killed in shooting incidents in America this year – on Twitter.

Soccer players may also take what has happened to Floyd more personally because of how often black players have been abused inside stadiums around Europe in recent years. The sanctions for racism – if they are handed out at all – can often be derisory.

As their own form of protest, some black players have taken to walking off the field after being racially abused by fans because many have little faith in authorities and governing bodies to effect change.

When Kaepernick took a knee four years ago, United States star Megan Rapinoe was one of the few high-profile soccer players to champion his cause publicly. But the clear parallel between Kaepernick's action and the knee of the police officer on Floyd's neck has roused more athletes to speak out.

“In no way are we asking black lives to matter more than white lives,” DeAndre Yedlin, a U.S. soccer international who plays with Newcastle in England, wrote on Twitter.

“All we're asking is we are seen as equal, as more than 3/5 of a man, as humans. My heart goes out in solidarity to George Floyd, his family, and all of the countless number of victims that have had their lives taken at the hands of meaningless police brutality.”

Tiger Woods spoke out for the first time since  Floyd's death, saying his heart goes out to Floyd, his family and everyone who is hurting right now.

The 44-year-old golfer broke his silence with a statement on his Twitter account Monday night.

“I have always had the utmost respect for our law enforcement,” Woods said. “They train so diligently to understand how, when and where to use force. This shocking tragedy clearly crossed that line.”

Woods' statement comes one day after former NBA star and current Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan made his first public remarks on Floyd and the killings of black people at the hands of police.

“I see and feel everyone's pain, outrage and frustration,” Jordan said in the statement posted on the Jordan brand's social media accounts and the team's Twitter account. “I stand with those who are calling out the ingrained racism and violence toward people of color in our country. We have had enough.”


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