There is nothing more divisive in the United States than race. Sport is often a unifying force. When the home team does well everybody, regardless of race or creed, is on board with a beaming, boastful sense of civic pride. The football fan often needs a reprieve from life's madness. Sunday is his day. Leave me alone world, I'm watching football. Imagine his horror then when NFL players enter the stadium making protest gestures against police brutality towards black people. Whatever you may think of James et al's militancy, you had better get used to it His sanctuary is shattered and the reason is that despite the extraordinary physical gifts and achievements of these players, they are still human. They don't live in the locker room, they work there. Last week the Cleveland Browns hosted their interstate rivals the Cincinnati Bengals in "The Battle of Ohio". During player introductions, Browns backup wide receiver Andrew Hawkins came on to the field wearing a T-shirt over his uniform that read "Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford III" on the front and "The Real Battle of Ohio" on the back in honour of two black youths who had been gunned down by police. Almost immediately the Cleveland police union demanded that both player and team issue an apology over such a grievous offence. A few weeks earlier, five members of the St Louis Rams entered the stadium during introductions with their hands in the air in the "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" gesture that has become the rallying cry in nearby Ferguson, Missouri, where an unarmed black teenager had been killed by police. Again, the St Louis police demanded that the team issue an apology and discipline the players. While both the Browns and Rams brass understood and empathised with the police position, neither would issue an apology nor discipline the players. Considering the way the NFL pushes populist activism down our throats, it's probably a good thing as well. No one complains, and rightfully so, during the games when the league wears pink trim for fighting breast cancer, or a camouflage motif to show support for the troops. "The NFL drives this standard," Hawkins teammate Johnson Bademosi said in response to the activism. "They tell us to wear pink for these games and camouflage for these games. While I embrace those causes, there are other things that are just as important to me as an individual." Of course it's one thing for largely anonymous players like Hawkins and Bademosi to take a stand on issues. But Cleveland Cavaliers megastar LeBron James, now there is a name that rings a bell. As the most high profile athlete in the US, everything he does is over-scrutinised and he knows it. In fairness to James, he has never shied away from taking a public stand on issues, something that black superstars of recent vintage like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods conspicuously avoided for fear of alienating advertisers. James wore an "I Can't Breathe" T-shirt before a Cavs game recently in response to the death of Eric Garner apparently from a police chokehold in Staten Island earlier this year. He has been front row centre on virtually every race-related issue over the last few years, from Donald Sterling's rant to the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida. But whatever you may think of James and his cohort's militancy, and there are just as many detractors as there are supporters, you had better get used to it. Seventy per cent of the players in the NFL are black, in the NBA that number is even higher. They are acutely aware of their heightened visibility, with ratings for NFL games routinely the most watched weekly shows on all TV. A couple of thousand people marching in protest may garner a 15-second clip on a largely anonymous news programme. But NFL and NBA players protesting during a broadcast reaches millions upon millions. Back in the '60s when sporting icons like Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Bill Russell were outspoken and prominent on civil rights issues, they knew they would keep their jobs because they were the best of the best. The rank and file, the Andrew Hawkins type players, would have been immediately cut by their teams for similar action. No more though, the powerful player unions would file a grievance in a heartbeat. They are protected and empowered. They know it and now so do we. Sport may still be about keeping score. But it's real life played by real people. No relief from the madness any more.