It is more common to see soccer athletes take a knee in recent times. This usually happens before a game begins. This gesture is often done in solidarity against racism.
Although the gesture has recently gained worldwide popularity, it has a long history behind it. Just like the name suggests, taking a knee is when a person kneels with one leg as a symbol of solidarity for a cause.
To understand how it found its way into soccer, we go far back to when its use was first recorded. Its first documented use was sometime in the 18th century when it was depicted on an emblem made for the British Abolitionist Movement.
At the time, the gesture didn’t mean much to what it has become today. Ingrained on this emblem was a man in shackles taking a knee.
Taking a knee would, later on, metamorphose as a way that silent solidarity can be expressed to support human rights amid political adversity.
The next time history records the gesture being carried out, it was done by Martin Luther King Jr. In the United States. He took a knee after he led a prayer for a group of protesters who were arrested in the middle of their civil rights movement march.
This article examines the evolution of this symbolic gesture and how it has found its way into today’s soccer world. We carefully highlight the possible reasons why soccer players have or may decide to take a knee.
Why Do You Take a Knee in Soccer?
As previously explained, taking a knee implies going down on one knee as a protest. So, naturally, when it first found its way into the sports world, several authorities greatly frowned at it.
The NFL was the first to witness this gesture when Colin Kaepernick took a knee before the start of the game. The action was done to communicate and protest his dissatisfaction with the oppression of black people and people of color. He was also taking a stand against racial inequality.
Since then, the peaceful protest he led has become an example that other athletes have come to emulate.
What does this all have to do with soccer? Here are a couple of reasons why soccer players take a knee during a game.
In solidarity against racial injustice and oppression
This is the most popular reason to take a knee in soccer. Unfortunately, a growing number of soccer players have been victims of racial slurs and oppression at one time or the other in their professional careers.
A notable example of racial abuse in soccer happened to Mario Balotelli in April of 2009. He was subjected to racial abuse by fans of the opposing team, Juventus. He would later receive monkey chants in the UEFA Euro 2012 against Spain.
While FIFA and its other governing bodies have openly sanctioned fans and teams, it was not until 2020 that many soccer players and officials began taking the knee in what has become a growing menace to the sport and its participants.
Soccer as we once knew it, a sport totally separated from activism, became overwhelmed with the support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Rekindled by the death of George Floyd in May 2020, soccer sports figures, including players from the Premier League, Bundesliga, MLS, and others lent their voices and support by taking a knee.
For instance, the Premier League even went as far as replacing the players’ names on their jersey with ‘Black Lives Matter’ for the duration of their first 12 matches at the season that restarted that same year. In addition, many players expressed their solidarity by taking a knee before the match referee blew the whistle to start the game.
The 2020 Euros also witnessed something like it with England and the many European teams taking a knee before each game. It was done as a symbol of protest and solidarity with black and people of color.
For liberty and solidarity with the gay community
This is more of an isolated event but it can count as a reason a soccer player would take a knee.
Megan Rapinoe, star of the US women’s national team, became the first soccer player to take a knee in this regard. This she did to peacefully protest against racial inequality.
With Colin Kaepernick opening the doors for inequality protests in sports, Megan Rapinoe decided to use her influence to protest for freedom and justice for the gay community.
As a touchy subject and because it was an isolated event, it did not receive much backlash for the gesture. This, however, has not stopped her from using her influence to campaign for it.
Consistently, she’s spoken against racism, homophobia, and sexism. Campaigning for equal pay for the United States women’s team, a leading voice is Rapinoe’s.
When a fellow player is injured
This doesn’t often occur in professional soccer but can be seen at the youth soccer level, especially in the US. Younger soccer players are sometimes instructed to take a knee when a player is injured.
This is done for two primary reasons. The first is to prevent other players on the pitch from crowding around the injured player, causing more harm. The other reason is to allow the medical team to run into the pitch and quickly navigate to the wounded player.
Another reason, especially in the case of a severe injury, is to prevent other players from seeing the affected player. It helps to reduce trauma on the players.
On the other hand, professional soccer players are often seen standing away and quickly making way for the medical team to access the player. They can also stand as a shield to prevent the fans and media from viewing the seriousness of the injury.
A notable example was when Christian Eriksen collapsed in Denmark’s Euro 2020 game against Finland. As the medical team worked on him on the pitch, his teammates were seen standing as a shield with their backs turned away from the fallen player.
As a gesture for praying
One of the many gestures often seen at the beginning, halftime, or end of a soccer match is players coming together to pray. There are no rules prohibiting players from showcasing their faith and beliefs on the pitch, as long as it is not done offensively.
One of the several gestures taken to pray is taking a knee. While most players kneel with both legs, sometimes they do so by just taking a knee.
To lace soccer cleats
Soccer cleats can often come loose during gameplay. Irrespective of the position of play, it’s best to tie them right back to avoid a reduction in performance.
The best way to reach down and fix a loose cleat lace during gameplay is to take a knee. It is a common go-to gesture for soccer players.
As an emotional expression of the outcome of a game
There’s no overstating the fact that soccer is a sport filled with a lot of emotions. This is not just for the supporters and fans but also the players.
Players show different emotional expressions throughout the game to various degrees. For example, players can sometimes be seen taking a knee to celebrate a goal. A prominent example is Edinson Cavani, who takes a knee and makes an additional gesture of shooting an arrow.
On the other hand, soccer players can also assume this gesture when a match is lost. It is not usually done intentionally, but when overwhelmed with sadness, players bowheads in sorrow while taking a knee.
To take pictures
It’s not hard to see soccer players often take a knee on the field to take team photos.
This usually takes place at the beginning of the game, the players will line up in 2 rows to take pictures. And usually, the players in the front row will take a knee to not block the view of the players in the back row.
Having the players in the front row takes a knee will help the photographer get a satisfactory photo with all the players present in the view without being obscured.
Taking a knee is a form of peaceful protest that started in the US back in the 1960s. However, the movement was revived with Colin Kaepernick taking the knee to speak against racial injustice and oppression.
The movement only got louder in the wake of 2020 with the murder of George Floyd. With some soccer players already victims of racial oppression, this symbolic gesture finally found its way into the sport.
Although undertaken by more players and officials, the ghosts of racial injustice and oppression in soccer still lurk in the shadows.
Other reasons to take a knee in soccer include supporting the gay community, protesting the pay inequality in soccer, show concern over an injured fellow player.
Hi there, I’m Jay.
The Pitch is Ours is a new beginning for me and a stepping stone to prepare before retiring from the professional soccer team. Soccer is everything in my life! My friends and I have created this blog with all our enthusiasm, passion, and understanding after years of playing pro soccer. Hope you will enjoy it!