The sporting environment used to be seen as a realm for people to cast aside political, class, and social differences and unite either in favor of a team or hatred of another team; of course, all in jest. When we packed into stadiums, we didn’t care who the person next to us voted for or their socioeconomic status. These trivial matters were meant to be left outside the stadium walls, outside the pub, and outside the living room.
I’ve heard people refer to sports as being a distraction as if it’s a bad thing. Sometimes life is stressful and made far more serious than it needs to be. The problem is that we’ve all been groomed to believe that sports should have a form of social awareness and continuous protest, otherwise, they’re supposedly signaling their complicity in whatever negative societal matter of the moment.
As a black American who is obsessed with the Premier League, I understand that I am a rarity in this world. However, my perspective as an American sports fan has me seeing the sporting climate in England change and disturbingly mirroring some of the negatives within the American sporting climate.
The top leagues in America over the past 10 years have slowly shifted from being purely sporting rhetoric to having an infusion of social issues and identity politics. Whether it be LeBron James and the Miami Heat taking photo-ops with black hoodies to show solidarity for Trayvon Martin, Michael Sam being the first openly gay NFL player to be drafted, or Becky Hammond being the first woman to coach an NBA team.
In contrast, in England, the “No Room For Racism” campaign in the mid-2000s was specifically in response to negative events that happened within the football world. It was a sense of solidarity in an ever-increasingly ethnically diverse sporting league. This was a campaign that was understandable to most sensible-minded people and never truly controversial.
However, all of this changed after the tragic death of George Floyd. Suddenly, I’m watching the United Kingdom sound just like America, ranging from activists to sporting commentators. While America was thrust into a hyper-political and racial awakening, the United Kingdom was mirroring the same level of desperation to be awakened.
With the combination of an election year, George Floyd’s death, and the pandemic, I was personally desperate to escape the melodrama of the day to escape into a sport I’ve grown to love for the past decade. I had replaced my NFL and NBA viewership with the English Premier League because of the constant virtue signaling and having to ignore the pretentious victimhood culture they were riddled with.
On June 13, 2020, the Premier League was given approval for players to "take the knee" and wear Black Lives Matter logos on their kits. This action by the league didn’t appear from thin air, it was adapted from the American sporting leagues. The same method of nonsensical virtue signaling was given a first-class ticket across the pond into England for the rest of the world to be forced to consume.
When English fans expressed their disapproval, they were treated with the same disdain which was given to Americans who opposed having political gesturing within sports. You were a racist if you didn’t want to see millionaire black players cry about how hard their lives are. You were a bigot if you didn’t want to constantly affirm your participation in a white-patriarchal dominant society.
As many Americans either normalized this behavior within sports or stood quiet in fear of being slandered, Brits were making it known how much they found it distasteful and unnecessary. I was watching a visible pushback against having politics within football, and it appeared to be gaining traction. That was until the aftermath of the UEFA Euro 2020 Final.
As notable top-class black players had missed penalty kicks, the media created the false narrative of overwhelming racial abuse on social media directed at these players was indicative of a racist English nation. Let’s not discuss that it was around 207 messages sent to multiple players, 123 of them from people outside of the UK. The 34 hateful messages were now the representation of a nation of millions.
The rowdy fans who once booed the kneeling at the start of every match had caved in and started clapping for it. After I saw this happen, that’s when I knew the Premier League will never be the same.
The Finals aftermath is now your racial awakening and the players will bend the knee until racism is over; good luck with that. This has become the validation for the Premier League to always focus on social and political issues. The war between Russia and Ukraine is the latest example of empty gestures, while teams and players will be pressured into showing consistent solidarity with Ukraine.
Prepare for after every game, the media will want to talk to Ukrainian full-back Oleksandr Zinchenko, even if he didn’t play. Prepare for constant phraseology that ultimately means nothing like “Football Stands Together”. Political gesturing will become the norm and Brits have given up fighting against it. This is now the Premier League, and it’s partly America’s fault.