Guest blog from Emy Onuora (Emy Onoura is the author of Pitch Black. Emy Onuora has an MA in Ethnic Studies and Race Relations from the University of Liverpool and has lectured extensively on issues of Race and Sport within higher education)
Raheem Sterling’s willingness to put himself forward as the spokesperson for a generation of black footballers is commendable, if only in the context of previous generations of footballers who were forced to suffer racist abuse in silence, even in some cases going as far as to insist that they used racist abuse as a motivator for improved performance. His challenge to the game’s leaders and opposition fans, and support for his team mates has marked a significant shift in black footballers demand to be treated with respect and dignity, has given other players the confidence to speak out and demand change. However, it’s his focus on racist attitudes within the media that’s had the most wide-ranging impact. Sterling highlighted how his City team-mates, one black and one white received very different treatment by the Daily Mail.
Tosin Adarabioyo and Phil Foden had each purchased a home. The headline on the Adarabioyo story read "Young Manchester City footballer, 20, on £25,000 a week splashes out on mansion on market for £2.25 million despite having never started a Premier League match." The headline for his white team mate Foden, read "Manchester City starlet Phil Foden buys new £2m home for his mum." Sterling’s exposé prompted several days of hand-wringing and self-reflection from both the print and TV media. They openly wondered how it could be that they could be so discriminatory and how it was they had no or few minorities in their newsrooms or making editorial decisions. They began to throw around terms like unconscious bias and wondered what they could be done to make sports media more reflective of the range of diverse groups who love and have a stake in the game.
However, clearly missing from the debate was any detailed discussion of the role that the mainstream media plays in generating and supporting a climate of outright hostility and overt racism against immigrants, their children and grandchildren, inner-city youths, black music, black crime, black gangs, black parents and so on and so on, all of it designed to generate click-bait and sell papers and generate advertising revenue. Football as has been said often and quite correctly, reflects society, and the rise in racist incidents both in English and European football, is a reflection of an environment that serves to empower the far-right and racists more widely, and is fuelled by the normalising of hateful ideas, speeches and actions by mainstream politicians and mainstream and social media.
Outside the rarified environment of football, there has been a significant rise in racist violence against groups and individuals, and increased racist attacks on mosques, synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, but the media’s willingness to support opposition to racism on its back pages, enables the same business-as-usual hate-filled, opinion pieces, leader comments, headlines and articles to be written about minority groups on its front pages. What’s happened, is that In football parlance, the sports departments have taken one for the team. This has allowed the blame to be shifted to sports journalism, and enable the media to state its commitment to anti-racism in football while its hostile reporting continues. Of course, the fact that in 2019, Sterling, Danny Rose and other black footballers are still the cause of debate as to how they should be protected, reflects the fact that football’s leadership has never prioritised their duty of care, to allow them to play free from racist abuse is an indictment of the game we all love and of the society we are all a part of and have a stake in.
Raheem Sterling, Danny Rose, Wilfred Zaha and many other high profile and not so well-know players are doing us all a favour and reminding us that to create a society free from discrimination, requires opposition to racism not just when it concerns football, but also when it is actively fostered by those with the means and power to shape and form opinions.
Lead image: Emy Onuora