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People feel free to be 'openly racist,' says former football star

The last week has served as an unpleasant reminder that racism still exists within British football....

Posted: Dec. 10, 2018 8:03 PM
Updated: Dec. 10, 2018 8:03 PM

The last week has served as an unpleasant reminder that racism still exists within British football.

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Just days after Arsenal player Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a banana thrown at him by a fan, Saturday saw Raheem Sterling of Manchester City become the latest victim of alleged racist abuse.

The incident occurred as Sterling and his City teammates lost at Chelsea to open up potentially the most exciting Premier League title race in years.

But the match was overshadowed by the actions of a group of Chelsea supporters during the match at Stamford Bridge.

Standing in the front row, within touching distance of Sterling, a group of men stood up and leaned over the advertizing hoardings to direct abuse at the 24-year-old.

On Monday, Chelsea said they'd identified and suspended four supporters over the allegations of racism.

The scenes, captured on live TV broadcasts, sparked outrage from fans, pundits and former players.

"Britain now is as it was in the 1970s, when I was growing up in Cannock, a mixed-raced child within a community that was, and remains, 99.9% white," ex-Liverpool player Stan Collymore wrote in The Guardian.

"In this post-Brexit vote environment, people again feel free to be openly racist, saying and writing the types of things that vilify certain sections of society for no other reason than the way they look.

"There's a blame culture at play and, more often than not, it's black and Asian people who get the blame."

The incident is being investigated by police, Chelsea and the English Football Association.

READ: Raheem Sterling accuses British newspapers of helping to "fuel racism" in football

READ: Fans back idea of points deductions to curb racism in football

The Premier League has said it "will support any action taken by the club or the authorities."

'That's just how it is'

On Sunday, Sterling took to Instagram to highlight what he says are the different ways British tabloid newspapers treat black and white footballers.

Next to his message, Sterling posted screengrabs of two articles, both from the MailOnline, about two City teammates Tosin Adarabioyo and Phil Foden purchasing houses.

"You have two young players starting out there careers both play for the same team, both have done the right thing which is buy a new house for there mothers who have put in a lot of time and love into helping them get where they are, but look how the newspapers get there message across for the young black player and the young white player," he wrote.

"I think this is unacceptable both innocent have not done a thing wrong but just by the way it has been worded. The young black kid is looked at in a bad light. Which helps fuel racism and aggressive behavior, so for all the newspapers that don't understand why people are racist in this day and age all I have to say is have a second though about fair publicity and give all players an equal chance."

CNN reached out to the MailOnline for comment on Sunday but has yet to receive a response.

Paul McCarthy, a media consultant and Sterling's former adviser, wrote on Twitter about how he once asked a reporter why he was writing so many derogatory stories about his client.

"Well, you know, Raheem should expect it. That's just how it is," was the response.

"We cannot ignore the fact elements of the newspaper industry propagate covert and overt racism," McCarthy tweeted.

"Not against ALL young, black footballers but against those who don't fit into an historic white, middle class view of 'knowing their place.'

"There are certain sections (of the media) which go beyond the boundaries of what is acceptable. I'm glad that Sterling has had the courage to voice his views. It's probably long overdue."

The Black Collective of Media in Sports (BCOMS) issued a statement in support of Sterling, thanking him for raising the issue.

"We hope this serves as a wake up call not just for newspapers, but for all the media, and for them to reassess how they treat Raheem and portray black sports men and women," the statement said.

"Just one black sports journalist was sent by the national newspapers to cover the World Cup this summer out of the 63 in Russia.

"Given that nearly half of the England football squad was made up of BAME players, this creates an uncomfortable dynamic that is very common across the industry."

Many have pointed to the good work Sterling has done away from football and questioned why it doesn't receive the same level of media coverage.

He made a significant donation to the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, while he also supports disability programs and has funded the building of schools in Jamaica -- where he was born.

In a recent emotional piece penned in The Players' Tribune, Sterling highlights the sacrifices his mother made -- after his father was murdered in Jamaica -- to give their family a better life.

Leaving her young children with their grandmother in Jamaica, she moved to England to earn a degree and cleaned toilets in hotels to pay for her education.

"My whole mission was to get a proper (football) contract so that my mother and sister didn't have to stress anymore," Sterling wrote. "The day that I bought my mum a house, that was probably the happiest I've ever been.

"If people want to write about my mum's bathroom in her house, all I have to tell you is that 15 years ago, we were cleaning toilets in Stonebridge and getting breakfast out of the vending machine.

"If anybody deserves to be happy, it's my mum. She came to this country with nothing and put herself through school cleaning bathrooms and changing bed sheets, and now she's the director of a nursing home."

Sterling also tackled the media reports that accuse of him loving "bling" and accusing him of showing off.

"I really don't understand where that comes from," he said. "Especially when I bought my mum a house, it was unbelievable what some people were writing. I think it's really sad that people do that.

"They hate what they don't even know. A few years ago, I would let it get to me. I'd be saying to my mum, 'Why are they picking on me?'

"But now, as long as my mum and my sister and my kids don't have any stress, I'm good."

BCOMS say this picture being painted of young black stars in unlikely to change unless the industry better reflects sport and society as a whole.

"Our unfunded network, of black sports media professionals and allies, has been active for 10 years now and in that time we have continually highlighted the lack of diversity in the sports media and its impact on how stories can be told," BCOMS said.

"We have organized conferences attended by hundreds of journalists and written guides on how to address a lack of diversity but the situation continues.

"We hope Raheem has opened up a crucial discussion that leads to real actions and investment so we have an industry that is representative of our sports and country."

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