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Never About The Anthem: Michael Bradley’s actions speak louder than gestures

The controversial debate of whether or not to take a knee has taken away from the actual gesture itself. WTR’s Tej Sahota has more.

Wearing a ‘Black Lives Matter’ t-shirt, Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley warms up before a match at the MLS is Back Tournament.
(Jared Martinez and Devin L’Amoreaux/MLS)

It was never about the anthem.

It was never about the flag.

It is now, as it was four years ago when Colin Kaepernick first decided to take a knee, about making people discuss, acknowledge, confront, and eventually—hopefully—find a solution to overcome the problem of systemic racism and police brutality that disproportionately affects Black men.

While kneeling has been a wonderful gesture of support taken by athletes across most of the major sports, it is not in any way the end of any road, which leads to meaningful and lasting change. Kneeling was meant to bring this problem to the forefront and have people talk about what Black Lives Matter really means, and if they actually believe the statement, then how they can go about effecting change.

If kneeling is only getting people to acknowledge the problem, but goes no further, then the whole thing has been deeply flawed. You can skate for Black lives, you can write Black Lives Matter on your courts, you can stand, you can kneel, you can lock arms, you can sit games out, you can delay games, but in the end, these actions need to lead to other actions; actions that lead to the betterment of Black lives and don’t victimize an entire race because of the colour of their skin. Actions that change the way policing and its issue of deeply rooted systemic racism is addressed and changed.

Because you see, that’s the problem. Not the anthem. Not the flag. Simply put, its Black men being murdered by police. Full stop.

And that is why I have no issue with Michael Bradley choosing to stand during the national anthems before last Friday’s game against Montreal.

Because the issue has already been brought to the forefront. It’s being talked about, it’s being discussed, it’s being explored on how to improve, and it’s being debated in the legislatures of cities across North America. The “hey, did you know this is happening?” part of the problem has long ago passed. If someone still needs to see an athlete kneel to know that Black Lives Matter, then all the kneeling in the world wont change his or her mind. No, we’re at the part of the problem where tangible action needs to be taken.

And here, the captain of Toronto FC has been beyond reproach. Bradley was one of the first athletes across North America to speak out against Trump’s rhetoric of hate and racism against refugees, he was one of the first athletes to challenge the White House on its domestic policies of racism, he was one of the first athletes to call out global xenophobia. Hell, while at AS Roma, he was calling out the anti-Black racism that permeates throughout Serie A, long before the league was made to address the problem by the powers that be at UEFA. Here in Toronto, Michael and Amanda Bradley have donated both time and money to causes that tackle bigotry and inequality. The TFC skipper’s track record speaks for itself. It’s literally right there in front of us.

The critique against Bradley for standing for the anthem really misses the forest for the trees. Supporting Black lives means taking a stand: it means donating your time, your wealth or your clout to effect real tangible change, to create betterment for your fellow human.

I’d rather a player stand for the anthem if they choose to do so for personal reasons, and have his heart in the right place, than a player who kneels for 35 seconds and then continues to live in their bubble, never truly understanding what the problems are and how they can actually help.

When Kaepernick kneeled, he was an island unto himself. He was ostracized and eventually found himself kicked out of the league. Today, that risk isn’t there; it’s not difficult if everyone is doing it. Hashtags and gestures today are the easy way out. They risk becoming athlete slacktivism. It’s the athletes who are willing to do something after the anthem has finished playing that deserve our attention and our support. Michael Bradley has been on the right side of history before, and I am willing to bet, when all is said and done, we will look back at his actions during this time with pride.

Because as it was then, it is still now. It’s about Black lives mattering.

It was never about the anthem.