Dubai: The brutal police killing of George Floyd which has taken the Black America by storm again - his last words a chilling reminder of the ‘I can’t breathe’ by Eric Garner in 2014 - has found sporadic voices of support from sport as well.
‘Am I next?,’ asks Coco Gauff, the teenaged tennis sensation who posted a moving tiktok video which flips through images of so many other African-American victims of violence at the hands of so-called law enforcement in recent years. The 16-year-old closes with a challenge: “I am using my voice. Will you use yours?”
Naomi Osaka, the former world No.1 of Japanese descent who has grown up in the US, joined forces with Gauff while we are yet to hear from two other crusaders in the Williams sisters.
Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback who became the face of a neo-civil rights movement among sportspersons in the US with his kneeldown gesture few years back, has helped launch a fund to provide defence lawyers for the ones arrested in Minneapolis protesting the killing of Floyd.
A heartwarming gesture, this, from the black American achievers from the sports fraternity - who has stood tall in the country’s history by being the barrier-breakers.
If Muhammad Ali stood was the 'greatest' of them all, tennis threw up several such iconic personalities like a Arthur Ashe Jr, the first black player to be selected to the United States Davis Cup team as well as win the singles title at Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open.
The Williams sisters (Venus & Serena), in the current context, had been champions of the cause though they have had a worthy predecessor in Althea Neale Gibson. Just ponder what it took to be both a tennis player and professional golfer and be of the first black athletes to cross the colour line of international tennis. In 1957, she became the first African-American to win a Grand Slam title at Wimbledon.
The business of sport, however, has changed rapidly over the years. The sporting celebrities are as insulated as any in today’s society and not too many of them are willing to stake their all by standing against the establishment.
Back in 2014, the American sport had witnessed sporadic scenes of support after Garner’s death in a similar chokehold. During warm-ups of a NBA game between Brooklyn Nets and the Cleveland Cavaliers, several of the players - including the great LeBron James - wore T-shirts bearing the message: “I Can’t Breathe.” the words of Garner before he died in a chokehold.
“It’s a message to the family,” James had said. “You know, I’m sorry for their loss. That’s what it’s about. Everybody else gets caught up in everything else besides the who is really feelin’ it. And that’s the family. .”
Kobe Bryant of the Lakers and Derrick Rose of the Bulls are among the other especially prominent players who’ve worn the ‘I Can’t Breathe’ T-shirts. Reactions to those expressions of solidarity with Garner and other black men or boys who’ve lost their lives at the hands of the police have varied.
Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor of history of education at New York University, was quite sharp-tongued in 2014 when he said that perhaps players should do more than change their warm-up attire.
It’s a matter of choice, and this is where a Gauff, Osaka or Kaepernick deserve all the kudos!