Last Sunday, a year-long protest by American players, crossed over the Atlantic to reach Britain: at Wembley Stadium, 27 Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens players refused to stand during the US national anthem, taking a knee instead. On the same day, 200 National Football League players were staging similar protests across the US.
It all started 13 months ago when San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat on the benches during the US national anthem. This was his way of making a stand against the serial killing of young American blacks by trigger-happy white cops. As Kaepernick said later: "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people, and people of color, to me, this is bigger than football. There are bodies in the street, and people getting away with murder." Too right he was!
Since then, the protest has escalated, especially after Trump referred to the far-right murderers of an anti-racist demonstrator at Charlottesville as "very fine people", while calling for the protesting players to be "fired". So much so, that by now, the protest has spread well beyond football, to baseball and basketball players.
Their politics versus ours
Predictably, the media and political establishment accused the players of being unpatriotic, claiming that politics should be kept out of sports.
As if their politics wasn't all over sports, in the first place! The politics of big money, to start with, whereby sports events are, primarily, huge money spinners for shareholders. And the politics of flag-waving, whereby professional teams are supposed to carry the "flag" for a club or country, as part of a grotesque, artificial rivalry. As if the talent of players, who are bought and sold for a fortune on a multi-billion international "market", had anything to do with their birth place or their nationality!
So, yes, the politics of the ruling capitalist class are all over sports. And as far as their politicians, like Trump, are concerned, the expensive show business which surrounds sporting events should only be used to advertise their commercial brands and to celebrate their poisonous nationalism - the same nationalism that they have been waving all over the world in order to justify sending soldiers to their deaths in the killing fields of their dirty wars, in Iraq, Afghanistan, and so many other places.
But, for once, whether they like it or not, their politics has been swept aside. Instead, thanks to the players' protests, the need to defend the rights of the oppressed has taken centre stage. And this is something that we, workers, can only welcome, both because we've had enough of all that big bucks business around the sports we like and because our side is the side of the oppressed, against the Trumps and their capitalist masters, who are our own exploiters. Yes, for once, it is our politics which have been heard at a British sports event!
A Reminder of the fight to come
Of course, the US players' protest is symbolic. It cannot force the likes of Trump to mend their ways. Nor can it change the racism and social injustices of a capitalist system which targets all those it aims to exploit with the same vicious contempt.
But the fact that this protest has been heard in the heart of London, should be a salutary reminder of what we are facing and what we have to do.
Indeed, what is so different between Trump's nationalistic, racist rants and the anti-migrant, flag-waving rants of pro-Brexit bigots in this country? This government may not have dared to issue a blanket ban on people coming from all sorts of poor countries, as Trump has done, but hasn't May's Home Office already deported over 5,000 EU workers for the sole crime of finding themselves homeless? Haven't thousands of other EU workers been told that they had to leave or face deportation, despite being legally entitled to stay? And how many times have we heard these politicians claiming that migrant workers are driving our wages down, when, in fact, we know from direct experience, that those who are driving our wages down are our very British bosses?
Whether here or in the US, the name of the exploiters' game is to drive a wedge within the ranks of the exploited, by scape-goating one minority of the working class or another, to weaken the working class as a whole. And whether here, in the name of putting "Britain first" in the Brexit process, or in the US, in the name of putting "America first", they are waving the flag of nationalism in order to cover what is really a determined attack against our class as a whole.
This is what we are facing. But unlike the US players whose protest can only be symbolic, workers like us have the collective strength to stand up and fight back - and, at some point, we'll have to use it!