We should take pride in a new generation of black footballers addressing racism
'Stick to football' stinks of ignorance. It is the three-word refuge of the triumphantly stupid.
What you're saying when you reply with 'stick to football' is a) your natural sporting talent automatically negates you having any opinion or point of view that falls outside the remit of your athletic vocation; and b) I'm a stupid fucking idiot and my uncomplicated little brain can't possibly think of you as multi-faceted individual. It is too difficult for me to comprehend and I can't deal with it.
This week, a number of talented young footballers made you deal with it. Marcus Rashford, Rhian Brewster and Jadon Sancho each had something to say. They used their individual platforms to express their urgent sentiments in different ways. In doing so, they received both a great deal of good will and a tsunami of breathtaking inanity. The dunderheaded responders even crowbarred George Soros into the mentions. It made the head hurt, but the heart swell.
Sancho, starting for Borussia Dortmund in Germany, was the only one of the three yet able to kick a ball in anger. He did so with cruel efficiency, bagging a half-fit hat-trick and breaking records in the process. But more than his goalscoring feats, this astonishing Englishman abroad won plaudits (and no little ire) for marking his first goal with 'Justice for George Floyd' scrawled on his chest.
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Mirroring the powerful solidarity shown by fellow Bundesliga starlets Weston McKennie, Marcus Thuram and Achraf Hakimi, Sancho's handwritten statement was shared across the world and profoundly connected him to many millions who harboured the same sense of injustice. It was considered, premeditated, and clearly of personal necessity. He calmly collected a caution and two more goals.
Liverpool's own goalscoring prodigy Rhian Brewster expressed with words what he could not with on-field deeds. His was a deeply affecting lament at the depth of feeling behind the #BlackLivesMatter movement. For someone so young, it spoke with acute understanding and startling maturity to the historical and ongoing inequalities which have led us to this maddening, exhausted place.
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This is way deeper than just pointing out who’s staying quiet and who’s speaking up. Unfortunately for us black/brown people etc, this is a real life & everyday occurrence in so many different ways. For years & generations we’ve been screaming out for change and to be heard, yet the pain continues... ⠀ We’ve all been shown films like Roots, we’ve all seen films like Boyz in the hood where this reality is covered and showcased. Yet we are still living these movies in real life. In 2020, today. ⠀ This goes beyond just #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd, we need justice for us as Human beings. We don’t want special privilege. A level playing field is all we have been crying for, forever. Hear us. #BlackLivesMatter
On Monday, after allowing himself some time to consider the full implications of all that had transpired, Marcus Rashford had his say. His message was both inspiring and heartbreaking. Here is a young man who had transcended his sport during enforced sabbatical. Having done his very best to help those in desperate need during the coronavirus crisis, he was confronted with horrendous truths of division and hate.
Like Sancho, Brewster and others, Rashford is not here to assuage anyone's guilt or dampen a molten sense of injustice when there is every right - and perhaps duty - to be angry. His words were not shared as some anodyne salve to make you feel better about yourself, nor did he propagate some inane guff about being colourblind. He said #BlackLivesMatter, not the grossly disingenuous #AllLivesMatter, which serves only to dilute the black struggle and lessen its vital relevance.
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I know you guys haven’t heard from me in a few days. I’ve been trying to process what is going on in the world. At a time I’ve been asking people to come together, work together and be united, we appear to me more divided than ever. People are hurting and people need answers. Black lives matter. Black culture matters. Black communities matter. We matter. #justiceforgeorgefloyd #justiceforahmaudarbery #justiceforbreonnataylor
Despite their tender years, all three of these mesmerising talents speak from a place of authority. A scholar of black studies in the highest echelons of journalism, politics or academia who is not black cannot speak with the same authority as someone who has lived that truth beyond the theoretical. That's not even to speak of the fact that each - especially Brewster - has confronted racism head-on.
Footballers are often chastised for being hedonistic fools with more money than sense. Especially if they're young - and even more so if they're black. There's a code that certain sections of the press use when referring to young black people with means that we all know and recognise. For citation, ask Raheem Sterling. More generally, football fans are bombarded with the trope that modern footballers are greedy, selfish and thick.
We should therefore celebrate and acknowledge each and every instance to the contrary with the same energy. Perhaps we don't have too much to be proud of as a country at the moment, or at least it can feel that way. But we can take great pride in this new generation of brilliant young footballers who are brave enough, eloquent enough, and socially-conscious enough to act as willing totems for their communities.
Sancho, Brewster and Rashford have the world at their feet. They'd be forgiven for keeping their mouths shut and their shirts on, and safely cocooning themselves in relative wealth and comfort. But they do not, cannot, and will not stay silent. In standing up for what they believe in and using their platforms in the way that they do, they are an absolute credit. To paraphrase Aretha, they are young, gifted and abso-fucking-lutely black.