Football is a powerful tool. The reach and influence of not just the game, but of the superstar players that perform should never be underestimated. And now more than ever, as protests rage across the world, that influence is being used to send powerful anti-racism messages, with players, clubs, fans and the wider footballing community lending their support to the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

After he slotted home the opener for his first professional hat-trick this weekend, Jadon Sancho peeled back his shirt to reveal a stark message scrawled in pen that read: “Justice For George Floyd”. And he was not the only one to make his support of the #BlackLivesMatter cause known, with players across Europe using their elevated stations in similar fashion. Sancho’s actions were echoed in the same match by Moroccan teammate Achraf Hakimi after he scored late on, while elsewhere in Germany, Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Marcus Thuram made a similar stand, taking a knee in tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement after scoring the first of his two goals in a 4-1 win against Union Berlin. Schalke 04’s American midfielder, Weston McKennie kicked off the tributes by wearing an armband with the "Justice for George Floyd" message in his side's 1-0 defeat to Werder. 

While these players were able to get their messages out on the pitch, others such as Liverpool striker Rhian Brewster have been quick to leverage social media to vocalise their support. The 20-year-old, who like Sancho was part of the England squad that won the 2017 Under-17 World Cup and who has spoken previously of suffering racist abuse on the field, highlighted the urgent need for change.

The common theme that unites these players? Aside from their extraordinary talent on the pitch, it’s the fact that they are all POC minorities who are 22 and under. But more than that, they are symbolic of the new generation of culturally switched-on footballers; players who are not afraid to use their platform to call for change when change is undoubtedly what is needed. Take Sancho as an example, he is one of the most in-demand footballers in today’s game, valued at over £100 million. This is a lad who grew up on the streets of London, who forged his talent in Manchester, and who is now smashing records with Dortmund. This is an England international who is not afraid to speak out for what’s right, and that should be applauded.

He's a player that's at the forefront of a generation that is willing to speak up for change when previous generations may have been more inclined to keep their heads down. Where in the past, those voices that did speak out may have been isolated, it now feels like there is a strength in numbers; a collective power to make a more inclusive environment for football. If we all took responsibility to speak of change in our respective fields it would make a difference. So will this generation retain the freedom of expression that allows them to voice their opinions?

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Sancho was booked for removing his shirt as part of his goal celebration. Both he and teammate Hakimi now face the possibility of sanctions from Germany’s football federation for breaking the rule that states players should not display ‘any political, religious or personal slogans, statements or images’. FIFA have since made the rare move to encourage referees to use common sense when applying the laws of the game. Attention will certainly be on the DFB as they make their decision regarding any possible sanctions, with the fact that the presidential board is comprised of 18 white men and one white female potentially set to come into full focus. 

Altogether though, it’s indicative of a wider problem facing the world. Racism continues to plague all corners, and within the confines of football, that’s no different. The players that we watch and admire week in, week out are not free from the discrimination and hate that still echoes throughout the world. George Floyd’s death has brought an issue into focus that should never be out of focus, but what it has also done is unify the footballing community in its stance against racism, highlighting the fact that Black Lives Matter. But the power of football can unite and lead the way – if racism can be eradicated from the game, then it becomes a shining light to society; a sign of how things can be done. The fight goes on, and we support it wholeheartedly.

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