Culture

The Premier League Swaps Players’ Jersey Names for ‘Black Lives Matter’ Stitching

Lead Photo: Alexandre Lacazette of Arsenal has a drink during the drinks break during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal FC at Etihad Stadium on June 17, 2020 in Manchester, United Kingdom. Photo by Dave Thompson/ Pool via Getty Images
Alexandre Lacazette of Arsenal has a drink during the drinks break during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal FC at Etihad Stadium on June 17, 2020 in Manchester, United Kingdom. Photo by Dave Thompson/ Pool via Getty Images

From the first minute of its return after a 102-day pause, the Premier League and its squads showed their unequivocal support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

The four teams that played on the first day of the re-start wore BLM patches on the sleeve of their jerseys with “Black Lives Matter” replacing players’ names on the back. Players also took a knee on the pitch together after a moment of silence in honor of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service workers confronting the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before the re-start, teams had shown their support on social media and announced the gestures would be present as stipulated in a meeting with the leagues’ captains.

While the league has a legacy of being vehemently and consciously apolitical, its CEO Richard Master said he supports this showing as far as it is an “ethical value judgment rather than [a] political statement.” Yet, it is wholly unclear if the movement will have any presence in the league beyond next week or, furthermore, through the remaining 40 days and 92 matches left this season and beyond.

Thus, an obvious question arises: is this anything more than an aesthetic gesture? As The Guardian’s Jonathan Liew put it, stripping it of meaning, the demonstration is not more than “a bit of fabric stitched to another bit of fabric, a show of support with the emphasis on the former rather than the latter.” The league, as the sport as a whole, has suffered because of racism and has long strides to make.

For example, British top flight fútbol only hired its first Black manager in 2008 and Masters admitted that the league “[hasn’t] got any plans” to implement a rule that stipulates that minorities be interviewed for open coaching positions. The NFL’s “Rooney Rule,” for one, does just that, forcing some affirmative action although it forces only an interviewing quota.

City casually routed Arsenal 3-0 Wednesday. League leaders Liverpool will cross the Mersey to Goodison Park on Sunday. A win there will all but hand them the trophy.

While there is plenty left to see from the league talk of supporting Black lives, they have, at least, stopped to take a knee.

Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City takes a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement prior to the Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal FC at Etihad Stadium on June 17, 2020 in Manchester, United Kingdom. Photo by Peter Powell/Getty Images)