Lest we forget: remembrance is fine, but can we just keep it away from sport?

I don’t like American sports, and I don’t make a habit of watching them. I’ve read Moneyball, but I have to admit that, when it came to the technical jargon, I didn’t really understand what Michael Lewis was on about. I question whether British people can really ‘enjoy’ watching NFL and NBA, whether Josh, 29, from Nottingham is really a Boston Celtics fan or whether his girlfriend just picked up a green snapback the last time she went to Footasylum.

Anyway, the weirdest thing about sport over the pond – weirder even than wide receivers constantly feeling the need to ‘bump chests’ and grown men arguing about who has the best ‘slugging percentage’ – is the furious patriotism espoused by the majority involved.

The quarterback Colin Kaepernick attracted controversy a few months back by kneeling during the national anthem – a gesture designed to highlight the perceived negative treatment of African-American people by police. Instead of actually discussing the issue behind the gesture, conservative commentators clambered over each other to express just how much Kaepernick hated America.

Kaepernick’s example was notable not just for the thinking behind it, but also because it was an exception; his peers usually stand, hand on hearts, flanked by shaven-headed men in fatigues as the Star Spangled Banner is blurted out pre-game by the wife of an ex-serviceman. It’s like porn for patriots, and it’s strange for us in the UK to watch, because we don’t quite indulge in the same zealotry when it comes to sport.

Or do we? The events of the last couple of weeks would suggest otherwise.

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The row between the FA and FIFA over whether England and Scotland should be allowed to wear poppies for their game on 11th November is tedious, but it highlights just how tetchy the nation has become over the whole issue of remembrance. As several have highlighted, the little red flower wasn’t adopted on the shirts of Premier League clubs until 2010, while England have played plenty of games on Armistice Day in the past without visibly commemorating the war dead on their playing kit.

Now we have a situation where teams are wearing poppies towards the end of October; where a player is being openly vilified for refusing (with good reason) to wear one and where clubs are entrenched in a game of one-upmanship, coming up with fresh new ways to ‘pay their respects’. The poppy is a symbol and, like most symbols, it can represent a number of things. To many on these shores, it references the sacrifices made by the British war dead, particularly in the two world wars, but to others, especially abroad, it is an emblem of the very worst excesses of British nationalism.

So why has this patriotism permeated into the Premier League, in effect an international product? You have to wonder what the likes of Ahmed Musa, of Nigeria, and Argentina’s Claudio Yacob thought as they glided across the poppy-gilded pitch at the King Power at the weekend, not to mention the global audience who the clubs usually try so hard to appease. Just as we might see the singing of the Star Spangled Banner at every US sporting fixture as over the top, Premier League viewers overseas may look upon the weekend’s gestures of remembrance as overly exuberant, excessive and, ultimately unnecessary.

If you’re a fan, by all means remember the fallen however you like. Stop, however, making silly demands of this sport we all cherish: a footballer born in the late ’80s does not owe it to you to conform, or in any other way to be an embodiment of your morality. Remembrance should be an individual, voluntary gesture, not something we have to force upon others – surely, if we do that, it loses its meaning altogether?

Lest we forget: remembrance is fine, but can we just keep it away from sport?

Obama’s legacy? A liberal Supreme Court

The passing of Antonin Scalia, the US Supreme Court’s longest-serving associate justice, piqued my interest greatly. I once studied the American legislature as part of a Politics A-Level, and my imagination was always caught more by the political system over the pond than our own staid, playing fields of Eton ‘democracy’.

Scalia, appointed to the Supreme Court in 1986 by the States’ neoliberal president Ronald Reagan, was the federal court’s longest-serving member, and arguably its most conservative. Throughout his tenure in D.C., Scalia saw himself as a staunch protector of the US constitution, that yellowed document considered sacred from Maine in the north-east to California in the south-west.

It’s therefore somewhat ironic that the justice’s death has ignited a fierce argument over the US’s constitutional ‘checks and balances system’, with Republicans and Democrats fighting for supremacy before Scalia’s corpse has gone cold. Even Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have had their say – but more on those two later.

President Barack Obama will, for the third time since being inaugurated in 2009, be tasked with nominating an associate justice to fill a gap on the Supreme Court. In his first year in charge, Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor to replace David Souter and, a year later, Elena Kagan took over from John Paul Stevens. Yet both of those appointments were relatively straightforward; both outgoing justices were liberal in outlook, so their replacements, although ethnically and religiously fresh in terms of the Court’s make-up, were like-for-like. Perhaps more importantly the Senate, who vote to confirm the President’s choices, was dominated by Democrats until the 2014 mid-terms.

This time, it’s a little different. In his last full year as head of state, Obama, before Saturday, was seen as something of a lame duck at home, presiding over a Republican-controlled Senate (54 GOP; 44 Democrats and 2 Independents) and House of Representatives. However, Scalia’s death has changed everything.

The ideological ‘outlook’ of the Court now stands at four conservatives – Chief Justice John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito – and four liberals – Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan. The next appointment will be key in shifting the balance, and that’s why Republicans are up in arms.

The aforementioned Cruz, who harbours realistic hopes of sitting in the Oval Office this time next year, is threatening to ‘filibuster’ any nomination Obama makes, while Rubio even went as far as saying that the ‘next President’ should appoint Scalia’s successor. This is despite Obama still having 11 months of his second four-year term to run.

GOP leaders are running scared because they know that, if Obama gets his way, they’re looking at a legislature that is largely liberal in make-up – a complete turnaround from the days of the 1980s and 1990s when, after Reagan and then George Bush Sr had enjoyed the best part of a decade-and-a-half in power, the Court was overly conservative (although Souter became more liberal during his time in D.C.)

The result of a liberal Obama nomination – should he manage to do what no Democrat President has done since 1895 – could be a more socially active Supreme Court, similar to the one we saw in the 1970s (Roe v Wade, et al.) after John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson had left their mark on the highest level of the federal legislature. Last year, the Court legalised gay marriage with Scalia present, what could it do with the balance further tipped in the centre-left’s favour?

At the moment, this is more of a constitutional and political conversation than a judicial debate but, if Rubio’s (unlikely) and Cruz’s (more likely) protests fall by the wayside and Obama does have his way, the vacant seat could be filled by the time US voters come to the polls.

Perhaps then Obama’s promise of ‘hope’ – so prevalent in his 2008 campaign, but unfulfilled for many – could linger on for a while longer, and the journalists, writers and historians could start scribbling at length under the ‘legacy’ column of the 44th President of the United States.

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Obama’s legacy? A liberal Supreme Court