James McClean opens up on Covid-related hate mail
"I'm just asking for equality. I wanted to be treated the same."
James McClean was listening in to Jim White's show on talkSPORT, on Monday, and listening to the host and his guests as they discussed the horrendous racist abuse that Wilfried Zaha and his Ireland teammate David McGoldrick have received.
Zaha and McGoldrick have bravely come forward to share some of the sickening messages that have been sent to them in recent days, in the hopes that shining a light on the problem will help eradicate it. "And rightly so," agrees McClean.
The Stoke and Ireland midfielder was irked, however, when he considered how he has faced similar abuse in the past nine years and, even when sharing messages of abuse he has received, has not found the same backing and support. In McClean's eyes, one form of abuse should be treated the same as others.
McClean took to social media, after getting back from training and listening to the radio on his drive home. He put up a since deleted Facebook post highlighting some of the vitriol that has come his way over the years, since he arrived in England from Derry City in 2011. In response to this, talkSPORT reached out and set up a chat with McClean and White for this morning.
Below are some of the main points from that interview, with McClean doubling down on his comments and revealing some of the recent messages he has received even during the Covid-19 lockdown period.
"I'm seeing all this support for McGoldrick, Zaha, Raheem Sterling, and that, and rightly so. I don't want to take away from the attention and support they're getting because it's bang on; it's absolutely correct.
"But the point I'm trying to make is that it leaves a sour taste in my mouth because I'm seeing all this support - and I can't touch on this enough that rightly so - but I'm thinking, 'I've been abused for the last nine years, and where's my support? Where's my level of attention?'
"When I say attention, I'm not looking for attention, but in my mind, discrimination is discrimination but it almost seems that one holds a higher precedence over the other, and that's what irritates me. I'm not looking for sympathy or attention. I'm just asking for equality, and that's it really."
A major bone of contention with McClean is that the media, he feels, has widely ignored the abuse he receives before, during and after matches. It is his contention that many outlets have 'fuelled the fire' that sees him come in for flak at many of the grounds he plays at across England.
McClean says media has a big part to play in how he is perceived, but he admits he has, on occasion, not helped matters. He admitted that posting a picture of himself wearing a balaclava, on Instagram, with a message saying 'Today's history lesson is... ' was an error.
"On lockdown," he says, 'I did post the balaclava (picture)... Yeah, I do regret it. It was supposed to be aimed at how I'm supposed to be perceived anyway. I thought, 'Do you know what, people perceive me in this way, anyway, so I might as well try and have... ', look, it was supposed to be a joke but it didn't go down as a joke, and I understand the offence it might have caused some people. Like I said, I'm no angel."
"I have made mistakes," he adds. "I'm no angel, at the end of the day.
"People say, 'Well you've brought it on yourself', but all this abuse started well before. I'm only human. This all started well before I'd done anything. Sometimes I get annoyed... I am an emotional guy. Sometimes my emotions will get the better of me and I'll act out, but I'm acting out based on retaliation from all this abuse that I shouldn't be getting, and then the media jump on it.
"I've been getting horrendous abuse. I've had police at my door, taking fingerprints and taking fingerprints at (my club) because when I was at Sunderland there were bullets sent. This has come around to my family home. I've had police (there) early in the morning. I've had letters, birthday cards, which have all been very well highlighted and attention brought to it, by myself, and it always seems to fall on deaf ears."
McClean states that he is merely 'asking for equality' and would appreciate similar support as the likes of Sterling, McGoldrick and Zaha have, of late, received. He touched on a couple of particularly septic and hateful messages he has recently received.
"We're in the same profession here; we do the same job. No-one should be allowed to say and do as they want without repercussions. Up until now, that's just the way it has been.
"I've had messages that I've highlighted, where I've had people saying I hope your three young children contract Covid and die. And I'm thinking, 'This is my children. I shouldn't be receiving this. I shouldn't have to put up with this.'
"People scratch their head and wonder why I sometimes do react the way I do. At the end of the day, if I wasn't a footballer and I wasn't in the limelight... you're trying to tell me that any other father, in any normal profession, would accept that? And that's okay?!"
McClean, in his Facebook post on Monday, called out his teammates, at clubs (past and present) and country, for not publicly supporting him, but that point was not covered in the interview with White.
He ended the chat by saying he was pleased that the abuse of McGoldrick and Zaha was being highlighted, but his sense of fighting a battle of his own, on his own, was still burning deeply.
"Where is that passion and level of annoyance been, over the years, for my abuse?" he asked.