Sports Editor Ross Wilson asks whether or not the issue of racism in English football has been exposed by incidents involving the likes of ex-Cardiff manager Malky MacKay and ex-England and current Chelsea skipper John Terry. High profile incidents such as this and the troublesome Luis Suarez are often damagingly presented by the media; fluctuating from a damning sensationalist account of the ‘perpetrators’, to a less vocal presentation of arguably more important racist issues.
Racism is a hot topic in football generally, but this article will focus especially on the general portrayal of perceived racism within football, in England. Racism is widely agreed as conforming to the following statement:
It is essentially prejudice, discrimination or directing an antagonism against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.
Terry was cleared of making a racist insult towards Anton Ferdinand by Westminster Magistrates’ Court. He was charged and banned for four games by the FA for insulting behaviour towards Ferdinand, which included comments on his skin colour. The media were all over the first murmurings about racism and John Terry, like a rash. However good the intentions are to raise a serious issue, those who make the headlines are all too quick to forgive Terry and churn out positive sentiments of the player as a man and as a professional. It is often the Daily Mail or The Sun who bombard readers with explosive headlines concerning a delicate topic, only to soften the matter weeks later. This is raising awareness of the difficulty, but simultaneously exaggerating it with some sort of perverse obsession with making the most vulgar headline possible. Often vulgar I would say, rather than ‘shocking’; a word which could help encourage positive action.
Terry’s language needed exposing, there is no doubt of that. His language was racist, he is a talented footballer for Chelsea, he is also portrayed as of questionable character…I’ll leave that to your judgement. Investigations into discrimination and racist behaviour need to be carried out thoroughly by various authorities, so as to get a better understanding with victims. Media outlets revelling in the stigma attached to racism in English football is cringeworthy and if anything can normalise the actual problem.
Clearly there still is a problem with racist attitudes in our country but it needs mature reporting and proper investigating after detailed checks. The unfortunate reality that some people possess these prejudices should not come as a shock as it is often made out to be. The sensationalist angle on racism occurs all too often, such as headlines stating ‘How Could They Be So Vile?’ (in reference to MacKay and associate Ian Moody) even before full details have emerged, and what has surfaced is arguably bigoted, backward and ignorant turn of phrase. Instead of sensationalising football racism as a way to create drama and sell papers, in reality racist language should be seriously investigated and punished.
English football has come so far in its tolerance of other creeds and cultures. Inappropriate ‘jokes’ (as they are more often than not claimed to be) privately sent between a white middle aged Scottish manager and another middle aged white English director should not actually be the centre of the investigation, as in the scale of things it is not the most abhorrent example of racism. Unfortunately the issue between MacKay allegedly isolating his own player based on racist tendencies received far less attention than the words interchanged in texts and emails. The stain of racism hasn’t gone away, but instead the media presentation of it only serves to distract from the most important issues, creating a lot more mess in the process.