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George Floyd death: Sports stars have important role in demanding change and justice

Sports Mole takes an in-depth look at the role sports stars can play in demanding change in the wake of George Floyd's death, and where some are neglecting their duties.

Protests over the death of George Floyd have entered their sixth day in the United States, with support swelling around the world for those peacefully yet powerfully demanding justice and change.

Such movements permeate every walk of life; it is impossible not to be outraged by the footage of Floyd begging for breath regardless of your race, religion or beliefs.

As Will Smith says: "Racism is not getting worse, it is getting filmed."

Support from the world of sport has been growing in the wake of the latest incident of an unarmed black man dying while in police custody in America, yet more could still be done.

Lewis Hamilton challenged as much, claiming that he "stands alone" among his Formula 1 colleagues in a "white-dominated sport".

Lewis Hamilton serving face on March 12, 2020© Reuters

F1 has since answered the six-time world champion's call, with Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris, Carlos Sainz, George Russell and Daniel Ricciardo all responding by posting anti-racism messages.

Hamilton's rallying cry has had the desired effect, then, but it should not have been needed to force some of the most high-profile sports stars into action.

Of course, the level of that action depends on the individual themselves - no-one can or should expect some of the most famous faces on the planet to go out and join a protest, for example - but in the age of social media a simple post can help to spread a message of literally life-and-death importance.

The power of those platforms - Instagram, Twitter, Facebook etc - should not be downplayed and are arguably now the pre-eminent avenues from which to garner support for something you believe in.

Plenty will argue about the negatives of such platforms, but they can also be used as a supremely effective vehicle for good.

Cristiano Ronaldo, for example, is the most followed person on Instagram with 221 million - only four countries in the world have a higher population than Ronaldo has followers.

Cristiano Ronaldo in action for Juventus on October 1, 2019© Reuters

It is a staggering number of people to be able to reach with one click of a button; to put it into context, the most widely distributed English newspaper reaches fewer than 1.5 million people per day.

Never in the history of mankind has one person had the ability to reach so many people at the touch of a button, and yet Ronaldo's Instagram is conspicuously lacking any show of support for George Floyd.

Instead, since the video of Floyd's arrest went viral, Ronaldo has uploaded a picture of a new hairstyle, a family bike ride and him scoring a goal in training - posts which have attracted more than 250,000 comments and 27.5 million likes.

Most of the world is already talking about George Floyd's death, but the movement would gain even more traction and momentum if those 250,000 comments were talking about it too, or if those 27.5 million likes were showing their support and then echoing the comments to help that backing grow exponentially.

Of course, Ronaldo is only one example and it would be unfair to single him out for sole blame - other sports stars amongst the most followed on Instagram have been similarly quiet, including Lionel Messi and Neymar.

Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona on January 25, 2020© Reuters

The reasons behind the social media silence on such a burning issue must be questioned.

It is likely that such high-profile stars have made a decision not to speak out on political matters, although the Black Lives Matter movement is more to do with basic civil rights than politics, even if the two are inevitably entwined.

Certain circumstances demand involvement, though; few would doubt that Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar et al find the Floyd footage as abhorrent as the rest of us, but their lack of action over it is alarming and begs the question - why not show their support?

Sporting icons such as Muhammad Ali are not only revered for their physical skills and abilities, but also for standing up for what they believe in and never being shy about speaking out.

It is also important to note that plenty of sports stars have shown their support, including some of the other Instagram follower leaders such as The Rock and LeBron James.

There were also protests in the Bundesliga over the weekend, with Marcus Thuram of Borussia Monchengladbach and Borussia Dortmund duo Jadon Sancho and Achraf Hakimi showing their support after scoring goals.

Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho celebrates scoring against Paderborn on May 31, 2020© Reuters

Marcus Rashford, Serena Williams, Coco Gauff, Naomi Osaka, Rhian Brewster, Michael Jordan and Colin Kaepernick are among the other high-profile sports stars to have voiced their backing.

And yet, just as Hamilton called for louder voices to emanate from the mostly-white F1 community, there needs to be a demand for the most influential and inspirational white figures in sport as a whole to join the movement.

Just as race played no part in the sense of injustice and outrage surrounding the death of George Floyd, nor should it play any part in determining who stands up to demand change and justice.

In that sense, sport's biggest names - Ronaldo, Messi and many more - have a huge role to play, and it is one they have neglected so far.

ID:401052:

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Marcus Rashford scores for Manchester United on January 11, 2020
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