The World of Sports: Protester puts neck on the line for climate

“I’m about to disrupt a football match, and I’m terrified.” 

Those were the words of 21-year-old Louis McKechnie minutes before he hopped the fence at St. James’ Park and zip tied his own neck to a soccer goal post during a matchup between Everton and Newcastle United March 17. 

Wearing a bright orange shirt and wired aviator-style glasses, McKechnie managed to secure his neck to the goal post before the security guards caught him. An angry fan handed one of the guards a knife, which was a little strange considering knives are likely not allowed at the stadium, but McKechnie wouldn’t budge even after his neck was freed. Going limp, the security guards had to drag the young engineering student off of the pitch. 

Although McKechnie was only on the field for a few minutes, his impact was made. Pictures of the protestor went viral on social media, prominently featuring McKechnie’s shirt, which read: “Just Stop Oil,” and both above and below a link to the organization’s Facebook website. 

Like everything that goes viral, responses to McKechnie’s protest varied. Plenty of soccer fans expressed their disapproval of the method by which the climate activist decided to spread his message. U.K. radio station TalkRadio had McKechnie on their station after the event, and did not pull any punches. 

“I’ve gotta be honest with you, I’d have just left you there and let the players take shots at you,” TalkRadio host Julia Hartley-Brewer said. 

“Our government wants more oil and gas,” McKechnie said in response to Hartley-Brewer’s question about his motives for his demonstration. “Oil is killing people now, fueling war and destroying our future.” 

Whether you agree with his methods of protest or not, McKechnie is right. Fossil fuels are causing a world of problems for our planet. 

Our consumption of fossil fuels, which are used for 80% of America’s energy needs, is becoming increasingly problematic. Obtaining oil from the earth and processing it damages the surrounding land, which hurts surrounding wildlife and communities of people. 

Burning fossil fuels releases chemicals that, when inhaled, can cause cancer and other deadly diseases. Additionally, burning fossil fuels contributes to the ongoing climate crisis, one that has already devastated communities around the world and will only continue to put people in danger. 

A move to cleaner, renewable energy is essential to reverse the damages to the environment and climate that have already been caused by fossil fuel consumption. 

JSO, a U.K.-based organization, believes in nonviolent civil resistance as the best way to spread their message of concern for the climate. According to their website, JSO has sent representatives to other English Premier League matches to pull off similar stunts as McKechnie. 

JSO demands that the British government “halt all future licensing and consents for the exploration, development and production of fossil fuels in the UK,” according to their website. The campaign is completely funded by donations.

Sports has a long history of being used as a mechanism for political expression. The spectacle of a soccer match or basketball demands attention, and that stage can be taken advantage of. McKechnie and the JSO knew they would capture an entire stadium, not to mention the millions of followers of ESPN and other sports media outlets that posted about the protest. 

Interrupting sporting events is a slippery slope. It can be dangerous for both the protestor and the players if anything goes awry. However, McKechnie putting his neck on the line for climate justice still remains admirable. We should continue to use sports as an outlet to discuss serious issues, issues that are truly bigger than any sport, stadium or athlete. 

Patrick Warren is a junior exploring the relationship between sports and the climate. His column “The World of Sports” runs every other Wednesday.