Saturday 18 November 2017

Athletes must pick sides as Trump era takes hold

'Mo Farah, whatever you think of him, has been thrust centre-stage this week with the Trump Muslim ban potentially affecting him as a Somali-born British citizen.' Photo: PA
'Mo Farah, whatever you think of him, has been thrust centre-stage this week with the Trump Muslim ban potentially affecting him as a Somali-born British citizen.' Photo: PA

Ger Gilroy

'I'm not black, I'm OJ", so goes the response to Harry Edwards when OJ Simpson, then one of the most high-profile and dynamic young athletes in America was asked to support a boycott of the Mexico Olympics in 1968.

Simpson wasn't competing in the games but adding his profile to the committee of young athletes organising against the human rights outrages being perpetrated on the black community in the US would have helped enormously. Simpson though had his eyes on another prize and parleyed his fame into an advertising and movie career that netted him millions.

I thought of OJ this week and wondered who will stand up against Donald Trump, and who will pander. It's been a hell of a week watching new president unfurl his plans, close America's borders and make people genuinely terrified about what lies in store.

In Super Bowl week it's hard not to think about what role sport and its stars have played and will play as the fascism grows. Remember this American football season started with a suspended Tom Brady returning with a red 'Make America Great Again' cap in his locker and a far less talented, less successful, less wealthy quarter-back kneeling for the national anthem. Their paths have diverged wildly since.

Mo Farah, whatever you think of him, has been thrust centre-stage this week with the Trump Muslim ban potentially affecting him as a Somali-born British citizen. Farah lives in Oregon where Nike are based and is raising his children there. I can't stand Farah's refusal to answer straight questions about doping, about his coach's methods, about his missed tests and his whereabouts issues and can't enjoy his wins, yet maybe for the times we live in Farah might be the hero we deserve. He initially came out with a strong statement calling the Trump plan ignorant and prejudiced. Then Theresa May got confirmation that British dual-citizenship Muslims would be free to travel. Farah's spokesperson confirmed he still thought the Trump ban was discriminatory.

Colin Kaepernick had a bad season on the field but his crappy supporting cast and the memory of him torching Green Bay in a play-off game should be fresh enough for him to get a decent job next season. His refusal to stand for the national anthem makes it unlikely he'll get paid what he's worth. Tom Brady is on the inside of Trump's gold tent and he's ok. Farah needs to decide what's next. He has a choice and a chance to make a difference.

"For what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeit his soul." Ask OJ.

Irish Independent

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