by Ayo Tunde
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Les Ferdinand was a great player – a good example of what a striker should be in his day.

He had a fair share of Premier League appearances, and was well travelled within England. He played in clubs like Tottenham, Newcastle United, Watford, Bolton Wanderers; and he spent a lot of time playing for Queens Park Rangers.

Les has played for England, he has 17 caps to his name, and he is the eighth highest scorer in the history of the Premier League with 149 goals! No mean feat that – try scoring one in that league and you will appreciate what a feat it is to have scored 149 times!

So Les stopped playing like many would, when their bodies start to tell them it’s time to quit. He listened to his body and he quit, but never quit football.

So today, ‘Sir Les’, as I call him, is the Sporting Director in the club where he first made a mark as a player – Queens Park Rangers FC in London.

A big introduction for a soft-spoken gentleman; and why ever not? This week, this man talked his way into my heart and I really needed to share it.

Flashback to a few days ago – and Sir Les’s team – QPR had a game against Coventry City. And before the game, referee’s whistle goes and viewers at home expected both sets of players and the officials to ‘take the knee’ ahead of kick off.

And you may wonder – why do they ‘take the knee’? What does it depict? For avoidance of doubt, I will explain. We ‘take the knee’ by kneeling on one knee for a short while as a symbol of support for the Black Lives Matter movement. And the Black Lives Matter movement in turn is a protest slogan which is aimed at protesting the social injustices in the world around us, racism, discrimination and all manner of segregation that exists and has riddled our world for years.

We tend to kneel because we want to echo the brutal, inhuman killing of American George Floyd by a policeman on May 25. This policeman, in an attempt to restrain Floyd during the process of arresting him, knelt on his neck with full force for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, and sapped life out of the pleading, helpless 46-year-old father of 5.

It is the kneeling on the neck that the world transformed and decided to go down on one knee to replicate the brutality of that killing.

Many sportsmen and women have been ‘taking the knee’ preceding games over recent months.

And so it happened that on this day (18 September), both QPR and Coventry players did not ‘take the knee’.

The barrage of criticism started, and QPR came under a lot of it, given the diverse and cosmopolitan nature of the club.

I can handle criticism, but when it came out as it did, I had to give credit to Les Ferdinand for speaking up.

Because I saw things from where he was speaking from.

What really is this ‘Take the Knee’ thing these days? ‘Sir Les’ said it all – it is now no more than high-profile PR (public relations). But in truth, what has it achieved?

Have we managed to change the mindset of the big corporate organisations to engage more with people in the ethnic minority (black people) and give them equal opportunities? Have we seen a shift in the employment pattern in our world?

In football, have we seen an upsurge in the employment of black managers since May, since the Black Lives Matter saga started, and since we started ‘taking the knee’?

How many of the people who are actively ‘taking the knee’ will go to their desks, see an application from a black potential and consider him or her without favour or prejudice?

I spoke on my YouTube platform a couple of weeks ago. I said it was high time we zipped up and acted more.

We talk a lot about what we believe we should be doing. Black Lives must matter, yes. We say racism must go from all sports. We chastise the police for profiling black people in the streets. Everyone sounds like they buy into the noise we are making – seeking equality.

And if we listen and hear the people talking, you would wonder why everyone is not in white flowing angelic robes in clean streets and roads in our cities – making ours a World of Angels.

But alas, it can not be. Because we are not a World of Angels; but a world of hypocrites. We pay lip service to these causes but we do very little in action.

Les Ferdinand is one example of a player who was racially abused all his life. If he saw genuine action being made towards eradicating racism from the society, he will be first in line. But he sees nothing, and yet people abuse him for not ‘taking the knee’ and joining in toothless propaganda!

Lewis Hamilton is another. Hero of the black race for making a stand, a Formula One superstar who was investigated because he wore a T-shirt demanding that justice be served on the group of policemen who shot and killed Breonna Taylor in March of this year in America.

These are the brutal images of victims of racial discrimination. Has it stopped? Are black people more respected and celebrated in the world today….more now than before we started ‘taking the knee’?

The report card does not make pleasant reading – not yet it does not. The opportunities are still not flowing. And any small appointment that is made of a black person is amplified so loud that it is like they were doing the entire black race a favour for employing one person.

That is not what is needed. The black race do not need empathy or preferential treatment. They do not want to be employed for reasons of ‘political correctness’.

Rather, like Micah Richards (former player of Manchester City and now pundit on British TV network SkySports) said, black people actually want to work hard and get to that top post on merit. But that merit has to shine through and must be transparent and genuine.

Taking the knee is optional. We must not castigate anyone for not doing it. But we must all look inward and see whether we are DOING enough to enhance the quality of life of all mankind – black and all other races, with equality.

That is where our heart should be, and this is what, today, makes ‘Sir Les’ a man after my heart.

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