Raise a fist, take a knee

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THE TRUMP tweets thunder but the knees are dropping, not knocking. LAWRENCE MONEY examines the new battlefront for the Prez:

In the US of A, where most of the Western world’s fads originate, the latest sporting hashtaggery has seen gridiron players “taking a knee”. The Trumpster has been spitting chips because this involves kneeling during the national anthem and he says this disrespects the flag and the nation.

(The Don’s got a fair point. When I was a kid the closing bars of the national anthem at the footy finals would disappear in a rising tide of “carns” but these days we seem to be more patient.)

The guys doing the kneeling in Trump country are the National Football League players and this is said to be a silent protest about alleged police brutality against blacks. But @realDonaldTrump will have none of that. “Respect our flag and our country,” he thundered in one of his tweets from the Oval Office, calling for a public backlash. “If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!” (Donald always capitalises the words Flag and Country to make the point.)

Next thing, the Donald’s 37.9 million social-media followers were told that NFL attendance and TV ratings were “WAY DOWN”. Said Don: “Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S.”

During a recent Dallas Cowboys game he noted: “The booing from the crowd is the loudest I have ever heard,” but it all got a bit complicated because the Cowboys – owned by billionaire Trump supporter Jerry Jones – all did the “knee” BEFORE the anthem. Then they stood in the Trump-approved manner, albeit with arms linked. It is now claimed that only 11 NFL players “did the knee” last weekend compared with 180 the previous week.

The Cowboys take a knee – before the anthem
The Cowboys take a knee – before the anthem

Mixing sport with politics is a hazardous business. Wind back half a century to the infamous Black Power salute at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics — Afro-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos with clenched fists in leather gloves on the victory dais for the 200 metres sprint. And alongside them was Australian Peter Norman (who won silver), forewarned and wearing an “Olympic Project for Human Rights” badge he borrowed from the US rowing team.

I wondered what the crowd reaction was back then and searched the records. “Cheers turned to jeers,” wrote one correspondent who reported uproar in the stadium and abuse of the two black athletes. As for Norman, it is well-known that his sporting career ended that day. Despite being one of the fastest sprinters in the world he was never on another Australian Olympic team. He was not even invited along to the Sydney Olympics decades later.

Peter Norman on the protest dais
Peter Norman on the protest dais

Norman died in 2006, aged 64. Tommie Smith and John Carlos were pallbearers at the funeral, a date the US Track and Field Federation dubbed “Peter Norman Day”. So, history has recast the 1968 villain as a 21st Century champion for equality and in 2012 he received a parliamentary (posthumous) apology. There is even a Peter Norman Commemoration Committee pushing for a monument to be erected in Melbourne’s CBD. It remains to be seen how “taking a knee” will be remembered 50 years hence.

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Author: Lawrence Money

Lawrence Money has twice been named Victoria’s best newspaper columnist by the Melbourne Press Club. He wrote columns for 37 years on the Melbourne Herald, Sunday Age and daily Age — and in Royalauto and Your Sport magazines — before retiring in 2016 after a 50-year career in journalism.
He still treads the speaking circuit, does radio gigs, tweets on @lozzacash and chases a long-gone 13 golf handicap. He clings to the eternal hope that the Melbourne Demons will once again win a flag.

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