Matome Sebelebele is an entrepreneur owner of Black Rose Connections and Chairman of Midrand-based Fat Cats Book Club
The ongoing global controversy around Nike endorsement of former NFL player Colin Kaepernick as the sport company’s face for its “Just Do It” 30th celebration, has once again, highlighted the universality of the black struggle for freedom and dignity.
Importantly, the punitive shabby treatment Kaepernick is receiving for kneeling in US anthem protest for the police killings of African American men in America, equally demonstrates grave challenges black sport personalities face in highlighting the killings, indignity and oppression black lives suffer, similar in shape to what black South Africans underwent during apartheid, which also saw Steve Biko and many blacks killed by local police for fighting for freedom.
In his book “The Greatest: My Own Story”, boxing legend Muhammed Ali, universally ranked by the America’s largest sport publication – Sports Illustrated – and the BBC Sport as “The Greatest Athlete and Sports Personality of the 20th Century”, crystallised how costly such a human right struggle is.
In it, Ali give insights into his passage of boyhood beginnings in Louisville, Kentucky, right through his public defiance of American military, judicial and political establishment when he stood up for black lives by refusing to join the US Army on its War on Vietnam.
“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10 00 miles from home and drop bombs on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied human rights? No. I am not to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. The real enemy of my people is here. No Vietnamese has ever called me nigger
I will not disgrace my people and myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality. If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my African-American people, they wouldn’t have to draft me, I would join tomorrow.”
For his defiance, Muhammed Ali was publicly humiliated, stripped of his titles and boxing license, and finally convicted for violating US Army Service Act, a conviction later overturned by American Supreme Court judges pathing the way to Ali to becomes greatest universal sport icon for social justice, human rights and political uprightness.
The combination of exemplary fight by Ali for the dignity of African American lives and Kaepernick protest black lives affirms the denied truth that sport and business can and should be used to achieve political ends.
In his paper titled “The Long Revolution: Sport and the Media in the UK”, Dr Raymond Boyle, Centre for Cultural Policy Research, University of Glasgow examined, in part, the relationship between sport, business, and the role globalisation and media plays in re-evaluating “who sport is for and its role in society” calling it “long revolution” to transform men and institutions.
Truth is that sport, business and politics are globally interlinked and denying Kaepernick his right to express his outrage, is to deny many oppressed people in the world their universal human to dignity and freedom, in particular using sport to preserve lives of the oppressed, poor and marginalised.
And this is further affirmed by the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago, which contend in its discussion titled “The Power and Politics of Sport: Why Games Aren’t Just Games Anymore”, that sport has since gone beyond the innocence of playing just games to becoming “big business that generate big money and big influence” that uses its power to get what it wants, and often successful.
“For good and bad, the sport world is bigger and more powerful than ever, with athletes wielding more and more influence over culture and politics”
This assertion is consistent with America’s leading sport sociologist Richard Lapchick, Director Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sport calls “The Power of the Athlete” wherein athletes generally have more power than politicians because they are believable.
And nothing illustrate that than Muhammad Ali and Colin Kaepernick career protestations and resultant influence on society. Perhaps even more by how Rugby World Cup between South Africa and New Zealand in Ellis Park in 1995, Nelson Mandela appearance which turned out to be a powerful political message of reconciliation to the world.
There is however, no denying that Nike as one of the world sport apparel manufacturer, has taken a sport commercial decision to make a political statement that it stood to reap massive commercial rewards now, and when the investment decision matures into political correctness in the forseeable future.
In offering my support to Nike and Kaepernick, I just bought a set of Nike and All – Star takkies, to make a universal statement to Colin and other black athletes in the world that “black man, you are NOT on your own”. With the same Nike support for Kaepernick, I am equally supporting Serena Williams, who was recently ostracised and castigated for wearing a black catsuit deemed disrespectful by French tennis authorities.
And by extension, I will also be supporting Beyonce and her back-up dancers who were disproportionately criticised and humiliated by racist Americans for wearing black berets and afros reminiscent of the dress code of the Black Panther Party, during their 2017 American football Superbowl final game performance for what was at the time, a tribute support for Black Lives Matter movement and victims of Hurricane Katrine.