Scrap the anthem? Allow kneeling? US sports are heading for one ALMIGHTY row in the wake of George Floyd's death
When they do finally emerge from their coronavirus-enforced hiatus in the coming weeks and months, major US leagues will not only have to play a careful game with ensuring safety measures keep the deadly virus at bay.
After the death of Floyd in Minneapolis and ensuing unrest, they will now have to contend with a delicate balancing act over how and when players protest in his honor.
The distressing imagery of Floyd's death at the knee of a police officer was all the more stark when juxtaposed with the actions of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose peaceful protests against police brutality in 2016 sparked a wave of similar steps, but also a vitriolic debate across swathes of US society.Also on rt.com Colin Kaepernick did the right thing. Black celebs like Jay Z and Beyonce aren’t doing nearly enough in the fight for justice
Speaking the following year about the 'Take a Knee' protests, US President Donald Trump effectively labelled those behind them as "sons of bitches."
"Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when someone disrespects our flag, to say, 'get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He's fired. He's fired,'" Trump raged during a speech in Alabama.
Kaepernick had by that point already left the league, opting out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers.
In a tale well told, he subsequently sued league owners for alleged collusion over a refusal to sign him, settling with the NFL in a confidential agreement last year.
But while the attention fixed on Kaepernick's stance may have died down with his departure from the league, the protests themselves never really went away.
Now, with the tragic death of George Floyd, they will return with a newer, more intense vengeance.
That means the NFL and other US sports will be under even greater scrutiny for how they respond to them, given the revival of sport will follow in the tear-gas-filled slipstream of the mass anger and unrest sparked by Floyd's death.
NFL chief Roger Goodell has already attempted to set out the league's stall, issuing a statement last week in which he apologized for "not listening to players earlier."
We, the NFL, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black People. We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the NFL, believe Black Lives Matter. #InspireChangepic.twitter.com/ENWQP8A0sv— NFL (@NFL) June 5, 2020
That mea culpa cut no ice with many, however, who have already marked the NFL's card for banning on-field anthem protests in 2018 and for their alleged blackballing of Kaepernick.
When the NFL resumes later this year, Goodell will be faced with the same dilemma. Washington Redskins running back Adrian Peterson has already said he will "without a doubt" kneel during the anthem this season - and he will be among a legion of others to do so, of that we can be sure.
Burned from the searing criticism of past mistakes, Goodell suggested that players would now be permitted more freedom to protest, although it is as yet unclear exactly how far they should go.
Some in the US media have even raised the prospect that the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner should be temporarily dropped before matches, until the league and the nation learns its lesson over racism.
Even in the more sympathetic climate generated by Floyd's death, you can imagine how that idea would go down.Also on rt.com Colin Kaepernick did the right thing. Black celebs like Jay Z and Beyonce aren’t doing nearly enough in the fight for justice
Tweeter-in-chief Trump has already fired a thinly-veiled warning to Goodell, should the NFL even think about allowing players to take a knee during the anthem.
"Could it be even remotely possible that in Roger Goodell’s rather interesting statement of peace and reconciliation, he was intimating that it would now be O.K. for the players to KNEEL, or not to stand, for the National Anthem, thereby disrespecting our Country & our Flag?" Trump pondered.
Could it be even remotely possible that in Roger Goodell’s rather interesting statement of peace and reconciliation, he was intimating that it would now be O.K. for the players to KNEEL, or not to stand, for the National Anthem, thereby disrespecting our Country & our Flag?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 8, 2020
You can bet that most supporters of the current White House incumbent share those sentiments.
The NFL may be the most prominent, but is by no means the only US sport facing looming decisions about the most tetchy of nationalist topics.
US Soccer chiefs have said they will review their position on requiring players to stand during the national anthem, which was brought into place in 2017 after women's social crusader Megan Rapinoe knelt in solidarity with Kaepernick.
Everywhere you look, US sports bosses will be confronted with an issue which, at its heart, has a seemingly straightforward message of ending racism, but which when wrapped up in the core imagery and adornments of the US nation becomes politically-charged and potentially incendiary.
Returning from the Covid-19 chaos all of a sudden looks like the easy part for American sport.
By Liam Tyler