Connor Southwell: Norwich City stars are right to take a knee
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Whether it be Jesse Owens’ triumph in the 1936 Olympic games or Kathrine Switze becoming the first woman to run a full marathon – sports and politics have always overlapped.
It’s difficult as somebody who writes about football for a living to offer an opinion on a topic that isn’t within my remit without the comments of ‘stick to football’ being thrown in my direction. In truth, I pondered whether to commit to scribbling these words you’re reading now – but when my grandchildren come to me and ask what I did in the fight for social and racial justice, I don’t want to reply with ‘nothing’.
I cover Norwich City professionally for this newspaper. It is a dream come true and the job of a lifetime. I get to watch a team I’ve followed all my life perform, or not in some cases, around the country and I am the painter, painting the pictures for those who don’t possess the luxury of attending games.
Particularly in a world adjusting to the challenges of Covid-19, I feel that part of my job has become more pertinent.
But the coronavirus pandemic isn’t the only disease being fought at present, with Black Lives Matter campaigners taking to the streets to have their voices heard in the fight for a society that is fairer. There are politics involved and, in truth, there are better qualified people to discuss that than me, but whether or not you agree with the organisation, the statement cannot be debated; Black Lives Matter.
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And until they really do matter, all lives don’t matter. Racial justice shouldn’t be up for debate and footballers shouldn’t be targeted for standing up for their beliefs.
I’ve been fortunate enough to attend matches behind closed doors at Carrow Road, I’ve witnessed players of all races, backgrounds and nationalities take a knee and I’ve witnessed the profound effect it has on everyone inside the stadium and beyond.
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Norwich City is an inclusive club. I’ve watched as a Bosnian refugee has been lauded for netting a last minute free-kick, I’ve heard tales of how the first openly gay professional footballer inspired others and I’ve seen a diverse football team lift the Championship trophy and become immortalised in the history of the football club.
Earlier last season, a banner in the Barclay stand at Carrow Road read ‘Norwich City - a home for everyone’, it should be a cauldron of inclusivity where social progression is encouraged rather than lazily slapped down. That represents the Norfolk I was raised in.
Often footballers, and sport stars in general, get accused on bandwagon jumping, that feeds the stereotype that professional athletes lack intelligence and an autonomy that is capable of changing perspectives.
But sport has often been the catalyst for political and social progression.
Just months ago, Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford won a campaign for the government to overturn their decision to suspend free school meals vouchers – a decision that saw those in poverty and difficulty affected the most.
Footballers are portrayed by some as untouchable millionaires, incapable of human emotion or individual thought – but Rashford grew up in the suburbs of Manchester, his family struggling to put food on the table. Raheem Sterling was brought up in an environment where knife crime was the norm – now both are elite performers at the top of their game.
Both have broken conventions to prove the doubters wrong in a system that often prevents young, black people from thriving.
Footballers aren’t doing this against their will. It is a co-ordinated, graceful gesture in the hope that the platform it is being amplified upon can change society and people’s opinions. Led by the players, performed by the players. No bandwagon jumping – just a desire for change.
That badge on their chest doesn’t merely represent a football club, it stands for a community – it creates the dreams on the playgrounds and it is the pillar of the city.
There is a deeper cultural significance to taking a knee. But it empowers those who feel like their voice has been lost.
I’m a white, heterosexual male discussing racism, evidentially I don’t know what racism feels like. But I’ve seen how it has broken people. Hurt people. I’ve witnessed the hatred and division it has caused. That is why we must do better. Nobody should feel as though they don’t belong in a world that should celebrate the differences between us all.
Education needs to be the primary focus – we must all do more to be anti-racist, whether that be in football and sport, or in a high street school. We must challenge. We must educate. We must all demand a better society that doesn’t cast people as others.
Until we do that, the struggle continues.