English soccer players take the field and a stand for racial justice this week

English soccer is back this week, and when Manchester City and Arsenal take the field this week, all players’ jerseys will feature “Black Lives Matter,” rather than their names. 

The change comes after a push from players to demonstrate their support of the global anti-racism movement. Although catalyzed by the killing of George Floyd, England, and specifically English soccer, have their own issues of racism to tackle. 

Racist abuse of players, both in the stands and online, has been rampant with many players, including Manchester City and England striker Raheem Sterling, speaking out about the racism they have experienced. Sterling posted a video featuring several big-name soccer stars voicing their opposition to racism in the league.

The diversity of fans visible in stadiums themselves is another indication of the need for change in the league. Although based in racially diverse cities, many games have predominantly white attendees. 

“Football needs to reflect and look at how it encourages more fans from different backgrounds and different ethnicities to be able to feel they can go to a stadium,” said Troy Townsend, head of development at Kick it Out, English soccer’s equality and inclusion organization. Although there is a high proportion of Black players, the majority of coaching staff and managers are white. Nuno Espirito Santo, of Wolverhampton Wanderers, is the only top black coach in the Premier League at present. The top coaches of the other 19 teams are white.

These issues of racism in the sport need to be urgently addressed, and allowing players to vocalize their support for international racial justice movements is a good start. It is also an indication that team managers are paying more attention to the demands and needs of black players and fans.

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