Boris Johnson is truly awful on a lot of levels, including in his approach to race, but even the English prime minister knows that it’s a bad look when fans boo athletes who take a knee as a form of peaceful protest.
Of course, English fans have been booing players for taking a knee, and Johnson only spoke up on the eve of England’s first game of the European championship because there’s going to be a global audience and England will look super racist if and when fans do boo. It’s more about image for Johnson than doing what’s right.
But in a statement on Saturday directed to fans, England’s FA hit the nail on the head with its message:
“This gesture of unity and fighting against inequality can be traced back as far as the 18th century. It is not new, and English football has made it very clear that it does not view this as being aligned to a political organisation or ideology. There can be no doubt as to why the players are taking the knee and what it represents in a footballing context.
“We encourage those that oppose this action to reflect on the message you are sending to the players you are supporting.”
That’s exactly it. It’s not just a politician saying, hey, you should be supporting these players. The point is that this manner of protest is, in fact, perfectly respectful, deeply traditional, and not connected to whatever bogeyman aim to connect it to in racist media.
Asking the fans to look in the mirror and see what jerks they look like for booing anti-racism is exactly where the conversation should be. We know why the athletes are doing what they’re doing. It’s been made clear time and time again.
It’s up to the fans now as to how they want to be seen by the rest of the world, and whether they want to look like the racists they’ve behaved like.