Thanksgiving: the relationship between sport, society and oppression (3/6)

By Hizer Mir

The role of sport in society has undergone a transformation in the past two years or so, ever since Colin Kaepernick decided to take a knee during his country’s national anthem. Perhaps, however, this story would be slightly misleading as Mahmoud Abdul Rauf protested during the American national anthem well before Kaepernick took a knee. Who did what first does not concern us however. What does concern us is what both events show. What both instances show us is that sport can go far beyond being the “bread and circuses” of modern society. Perhaps what marks Kaepernick’s experience off from Abdul Rauf’s is the election of Donald Trump. The election of Donald Trump has led to the politicisation of sport on an hitherto unprecedented scale. The list of incidences are endless: Trump’s SoB comment, the withdrawing of an invite to the Golden State Warriors, the far right boycotting of the NFL and embracing of the NHL and so on.

So what does this mean for the role of sport in today’s society? Whilst sport has not become as politicised in the UK as in the US (yet) we can draw some general points from occurrences in the US.

The first, and most important, role sports play is that of a mirror to society. It reflects who we are and if we don’t like it then something must change. We can either change ourselves or we can look away. Perhaps a comparison can be made between a disfigured person looking in the mirror and turning away and the far right turning from the NFL to the NHL.

The second role is new to sports. It is as a gateway to the political. The political has infiltrated sports thus leading to a politicisation of sports. This can be seen quite clearly in the sports talk shows in the US (especially First Take and Undisputed). This role is perhaps the most controversial as it has led to a backlash in which people claim politics should be kept out of sport. This should be seen as a cry to place sport within the category of a distraction from the “real” world. This role can be seen more in the US than the UK at the present time.

The third role is that of a mediator between the political class and a (significantly large) portion of the electorate. This role comes as a direct result of the second. When Kaepernick took a knee he was doing so on the basis of thoughts and actions of people far less famous and far less able to capture the spotlight. Thus Kaepernick, and now others, have become a vehicle through which the demands of the often overlooked can be voiced on a national stage. The implications of this are grave. The implication of this is the failure of the current political order to adequately represent everyone. Thus, for some, sports more adequately represents them than do their politicians.