Athletes and Social Activism: Being a Good Person is more important than Being a Good Player

31-year-old German professional Soccer player Mesut Özil, has been described during his successful career as being the “Federer of Football, “assist king,” and “a genius with the ball.” He is a World Cup winner with Germany, and has played for some of the most prestigious clubs in the world, including Real Madrid and Arsenal. His coach at Real Madrid, Jose Mourinho, once said, “Özil is unique. There is no copy of him, not even a bad copy.” Former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola, stated: “Mesut Özil is the dangerous one – he’s the one we need to keep the closest eye on.”

For the last 6 seasons Özil has played for Arsenal, but despite starting the first 10 Premier League games under Arsenal’s current club manager, Mikel Arteta, Özil has not played a minute since March 7. He has not even been named to a matchday squad since June 25. Last week, Arsenal submitted their 25-man squad for their Premier league match and it was made official that they were leaving out Özil, who also happens to be one of English football’s highest-paid players. What that means is that while he remains at the club, fit to play, available to train, and paid by the club, he will not play in a match.

Arsenal’s team manager Arteta has insisted that leaving Özil out was solely based on “footballing” reasons, however, Özil was a regular starter with Arsenal before the Covid-19 break. Per Mertesacker (Arsenal defender, 2011-18 and now a coach at the club’s academy) has said publicly that Özil has been training well. His teammates have said that he is one of their best players, and cannot understand why he was left off the s match squad. So, why is Özil left out of the Arsenal squad?

Some Arsenal fans have pointed to his comments in December 2019 about the mistreatment of Uighur Muslims in China and suggest a link to his current exile. In 2018, a BBC investigation revealed evidence that about a million people – mostly from China’s Muslim Uighur community – had been detained without trial in more than 85 high-security prison camps where they were interrogated and beaten because of their religion. On December 2019, Özil, who is Muslim, released a social media post calling Uighurs “warriors who resist persecution” and criticizing both, China, and the silence of other Muslims in response to the abuse. Arsenal distanced themselves from Özil’s comments, saying the club is “always apolitical as an organization.”

After his post, Özil was removed from China’s version of the Pro Evolution Soccer 2020 video game, and the club’s next game after the comments against Manchester City was removed from Chinese state broadcaster CCTV’s schedule. Clearly, Özil’s comments had resulted in a significant economic loss to his club who relies heavily on the Chinese market for revenue. Perhaps being left out of the Arsenal squad is not solely for footballing reasons after all.

Özil’s career as a player for the German national team also ended in controversy, he quit international football in 2018 citing the “racism and disrespect” he has faced in Germany over his Turkish roots. Making direct reference to Reinhard Grindel, president of the DFB (German Football Federation), Özil added: “[p]eople with racially discriminative backgrounds should not be allowed to work in the largest football federation in the world that has players from dual heritage families. Attitudes like theirs simply do not reflect the players they supposedly represent. In the eyes of Grindel and his supporters, I am German when we win but I am an immigrant when we lose.”

Özil’s story is reminiscent of that of Colin Kaepernick and the protests by some American athletes against police brutality and racism by kneeling on one knee during the National Anthem. The protests began in the National Football League (NFL) after San Francisco 40ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the anthem, before his team’s preseason games of 2016. During a post-game interview on August 26, 2016, Kaepernick stated, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder,” adding that he would continue to protest during the anthem until he felt like “[the United States flag] represents what it’s supposed to represent.” Kaepernick was essentially fired by the San Francisco 49ers and blackballed by the NFL. He has not been able to play in the league since the 2016 season.

Modern athletes raising their voice to injustice, although infrequent, is not something new. In fact, in 2012, the Miami Heat posed in hoodies for a widely circulated photograph meant to protest the murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida. Two years later, athlete activism accelerated when the Los Angeles Clippers demonstrated against their team owner, Donald Sterling, for making racist comments. NBA stars wore T-shirts that said “I Can’t Breathe” to protest the killing of Eric Garner’s by police in New York. And five St. Louis Rams players raised their hands in “don’t shoot” poses to bring attention to the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Most recently, on August 26, 2020, the Milwaukee Bucks refused to take to the court for their NBA playoff game. In this case, however, the players didn’t just voice their concerns, the players’ protest marked a significant shift in the direction of activism on the part of the athletes.
By acting in concert –and all of them refusing to play– these athletes were, in effect, going on strike, and they showed the world just how much economic leverage they could wield.

In recent years, the prevailing media narrative about athletes who have routinely used their “platforms” to “raise awareness” or “bring attention” to a social issue has been positive. However, many argue that athletes are professionals who should focus on doing “their job” and not get involved in social activism. Furthermore, they argue that some of their actions – such as taking a knee during the National Anthem – is disrespectful and rarely does it lead to the kind of structural changes their actions demand.

The question for all of us is whether we prefer unquestioning athletes who play a game for our entertainment like robots, or individuals with a social conscience using their platform to raise awareness about injustices, and trying to have a positive impact on society. If we prefer the latter, then we cannot cover for injustice or else we become accomplices of the bad actors. Coach Mikel Arteta’s covering for his bosses by citing footballing reasons for leaving Özil out of the Arsenal’s squad, when he was clearly left out because of his social activism, is cowardly and wrong.


Fort the last five years largely secret talks have unveiled the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP is a free trade agreement between 12 countries: the US, Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Chile and Peru (China is notably absent). Some say it is one of the most ambitious free trade agreements ever signed.

What is a free trade agreement?

A free trade agreement (FTA) is a Treaty between two or more countries to establish a free trade area where commerce in goods and services can be conducted across their common borders, without tariffs or any other indirect trade barriers. There are many FTA’s signed between different countries around the world. An example of such type of treaty is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Mexico, the US and Canada. In addition to tariffs, FTAs also cover areas such as government procurement, intellectual property rights, and competition policy.

A difference between a trade agreement and a customs union, such as the European Union, is that capital or labor may not move freely in a free trade area, whereas in a common market it can. Additionally, in a custom union there are common external tariffs (CET) on imports from non-member countries.


The magnitude of the TPP in the world economy is significant. The TPP is meant to address tariffs on most good and services, intellectual property laws, and general economic policy. The 12 countries involved in the agreement have a collective population of about 800 million, which is almost twice that of the European Union’s single market. In fact, the 12-country bloc is currently responsible for 40% of world trade. Therefore, the economic and public policy effect of the TPP will not only be seen between the nations involved but also around the world.

Most goods and services seem to be involved, but not all tariffs are going to be removed and some will take longer than others. On textiles and clothing, they will be removing all tariffs, but while the US Trade Representative says most tariffs will be removed immediately after the deal is ratified, tariffs on some products will be eliminated over longer timeframes as agreed by the TPP Parties.

It is not clear which tariffs and services will be immediately affected or which services and countries fall into which category given that the full text has not yet been published.

In favor of the TPP

Those in favor say this trade deal will unleash new economic growth among countries involved. It is also an argument that this agreement will take away some of the power from China, and will empower the trading abilities of the countries involved. Additionally, it will remove all indirect barriers of trade between the countries parties to the agreement and facilitate political relations.

Against the TPP

One of the downsides of FTAs is that it gives powerful economies the ability to impose their will over smaller, developing economies. Most often, this comes in the form of a smaller economy making more concessions than are beneficial in the long term, while the larger economy keeps its trade restrictions in place. Furthermore, critics argue that FTAs promote large, competitive trading blocs that could create economic instability in other parts of the world.

Some also fear that the TPP could mean jobs will move from the US to developing countries, and that it will intensify competition between countries’ labor forces.

When will the TPP be implemented?

It will be sometime before implementation of the TPP. In the next few months, details of how the deal will be implemented will be argued out in individual countries’ legislatures before being ratified. In the US, Congress has granted the President “fast-track” authority over the deal. Presidential “fast track” authority, also called “trade promotion authority,” is the authority of the President of the United States to negotiate international agreements that Congress can approve or disapprove but cannot amend or filibuster.

Discussions over the deal are likely to take place before Congress in the midst of the presidential primaries, so it will probably turn into a political point for both parties. What is clear is that the TPP is a reality that will affect everyone and thus, it is important to keep informed of new developments.