It's not often that governing sport bodies show empathy and common sense when interpreting the rulebook, but that's what has happened in Germany.
The German federation is following FIFA's direction and will not be sanctioning the players who showed on-field displays of support and solidarity for George Floyd, who was killed by police in Minneapolis in May, the DFB announced on Wednesday.
U.S. and Schalke midfielder Weston McKennie, Borussia Monchengladbach's Marcus Thuram and Dortmund's Jadon Sancho and Achraf Hakimi were subject to discipline after each took action that technically violated the DFB's rules. In a thorough explanation earlier this week, the federation spelled out how the Laws of the Game state: "Equipment must not have any political, religious or personal slogans, statements or images. Players must not reveal undergarments that show political, religious, personal slogans, statements or images, or advertising other than the manufacturer's logo. For any offense, the player and/or the team will be sanctioned by the competition organizer, national football association or by FIFA.”
McKennie wore an armband that read "Justice for George," while Thuram took a knee after scoring a goal and Sancho and Hakimi revealed shirts under their jerseys expressing justice for Floyd, who was killed by police officer Derek Chauvin.
German officials remained empathetic while also explaining that they may have no choice but to levy punishments on the players, but FIFA opened the door for some leeway on the decision with a strong statement urging leagues to apply common sense to the situations should they arise. FIFA president Gianni Infantino took it a step further, saying Tuesday that "the recent demonstrations of players in Bundesliga matches would deserve an applause and not a punishment."
In its explanation on Wednesday, the DFB said that further demonstrations and actions would be free from sanctioning—including the message on Tyler Adams's cleats on Monday—and the federation's president issued a statement of support for all of the antiracism messages.
"The DFB is firmly opposed to all forms of racism, discrimination and violence and stands for tolerance, openness and diversity—values that also in the DFB statutes," Fritz Keller said. "So the actions of the players have our respect and understanding."
McKennie, 21, opened up about his actions in an interview with Forbes earlier this week.
I felt like it was my responsibility and my duty, especially being American, and with the situation going on in America,” McKennie said. “And I felt like it was the best and biggest platform that I could use to spread awareness. Of course, maybe some people don’t agree with it, but that’s their opinion and for me, I felt like it was my duty and my responsibility to go out to show justice for George Floyd. This is a problem that’s been going on way too long.
“We're the only league that's playing right now, all eyes are on the Bundesliga. So I felt like there's no better way and no better time than now.”
Premier League clubs and players have also shown solidarity after Floyd's killing, and the Football Association has preemptively said that any demonstrations after the league resumes on June 17 will go unpunished.