Raheem Sterling is one of those players that feels as if he’s been in the league forever. After all, he’s only just turned 24 having been a regular for Liverpool and then Manchester City since he was 18. He’s been at the heart of a lot of controversy, be it lacklustre performances, his move to City being perceived as a ‘Snake’ move seen as a way to join a team with a higher wage bill, or even his dour play for England, particularly at this World Cup where it was almost as if he was blamed for everything. There is one controversy which stands out above the rest, racism.
For those who haven’t seen, Sterling was subject to alleged racial abuse last weekend against Chelsea. While going out to take a throw in, Chelsea fans were seen shouting at the winger, getting right in his face with one of them believed to have used racial slurs to target Sterling. Those words can’t be repeated here, but they were not on. Authorities quickly caught onto this and the fan has been subsequently banned from attending football matches, with a more permanent ban likely the outcome in a resulting trial. Forget that he was banned, however, forget that now when a fan is caught being racist or abusive, they’re punished, what’s more disturbing is that the fan felt empowered to say such a thing, in such a manner, when cameras are all over him on the most televised sporting league in the world. That’s where the true worry is.
Racism exists, let’s not sugar coat it. It exists in football, this is nothing new. Yet, it’s 2018 and this is still a discussion. In 2018 a young, black footballer was targeted for the colour of skin by an older fan in the stands. Earlier this month during the North London derby, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a banana skin thrown at him by a rival supporter. We all know the connotations behind that action.
Why is it still an issue?
In 2015, Chelsea fans were seen in Paris not allowing a black man on the train, repeatedly kicking him off the carriage and bragging that they were proud racists. Yes, these fans were banned, but the fact that in the 21st Century these sorts of things still happen is alarming. Fans feel empowered to behave in that manner and to express themselves. You can talk on and on about the political implications behind it, but the fact remains that racism is racism, and no matter the political climate fans should not feel that this is something appropriate. Most of the fans that do this are adults, grown-ups, with enough supposed common sense to distinguish right from wrong. Yet, despite this, they still feel that they can do it as if it’s a thing to do. It isn’t. It’s disgusting.
Dani Alves back in 2014 had a banana thrown at him during a Barcelona game. He responded by playfully eating the banana and carrying on, a great way to handle it, but the issue remains. This happened to a player because they’re of a darker complexion. Mario Balotelli has faced years of racial abuse, particularly in Italy, where sections of supporters have looked down on him and claimed that he’s not a true Italian because he is black and of a Ghanaian heritage. This in spite of the fact that he was born in Sicily and speaks Italian as a first language. In fact, an AC Milan match was once called off in 2013 because Kevin-Prince Boateng was subjected to monkey chants from rival fans, leading him to kicking the ball in the stands and storming off. There have been a lot of cases of this kind of racism in Italy, as in the rest of Europe. How this is still an issue in this day and age is beyond anyone.
The media doesn’t help.
Let’s not kid ourselves and pretend that the media doesn’t influence the way we think, our perceptions on things. If we go back to Raheem Sterling, it’s evident that he gets way more stick than any other player. When he moved from Liverpool to Manchester City, he was seen as a ‘money-grabber’ chasing the big move and leaving Liverpool in the dirt. The same wasn’t send about every other player that signed for City, at least not to that extent. The same wasn’t even said about Wayne Rooney when he left Everton for Manchester United. Sure, Evertonians were mad, but the media didn’t have a field day the way they did with Raheem Sterling.
If Sterling dresses in fancy clothing, it’s emblematic of all black players, that were dirt poor now flash their wealth. Similar cases can be seen with Manchester United stars Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard, who are constantly berated for flashy haircuts, flashy clothes and flashy dancing on the pitch. The media are constantly on their backs for their actions, even if it just some successful footballers enjoying themselves and spending their hard-earned money on whatever they like. You never saw this kind of treatment aimed at David Beckham, who transcended football to become a fashion icon. You don’t see this level of barraging at Cristiano Ronaldo, who’s always pictured in a sportscar, with his supermodel girlfriend, with the latest designer clothing and jewellery on paired with the latest Nike sneakers. He also has a penchant for styling his hair excessively. Becks and CR7 can get away with it, but God forbid if Sterling or Lingard do it too.
It’s even funnier when you look at Sterling’s success story, how he came from nothing while living with mother. The first thing he did when he made it as a footballer was buy her a nice house. Is this a show of wealth? Or is it a son who loves his mother? The media won’t go out of their way to tell you of these footballers being generous, but they’ll spin in circles when they dye their hair or get their ears pierced. Is it because they’re black? It’s tough to say, but when white footballers do the same and don’t get the same stick for it, it does beg the question, and when fans feel it’s okay to get the grills of young footballers half their age and abuse them, it raises multiple red flags.
The bigger factors at play.
To say it is all because Sterling is black is risky and jumping too far ahead. He is a polarising player, at times brilliant and at times underperforming his immense talent. He can produce a worldie from 25 yards but go down too easy in the box. But you only have to look at how he is treated by the media and by the fans to see what’s truly going on. Racism in football simply has to stop, it’s 2018 and fans still feel it’s okay to call black players horrific names. The media has to change the way the talk about these players and treat them fairly, and fans have to accept that it’s a new world we live in, and this sort of behaviour is unacceptable.