The online world of English football is surprisingly calm despite a busy weekend of important games.
A win on Saturday brought Manchester City one step closer to their third league title in four years. West Ham United have been battling for the top five for years while Liverpool are battling for their own place, which can guarantee the clubs a coveted spot in international competitions.
But from Friday through Monday, the football world’s official social media feeds on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram will be silent at this crucial time of the season.
The silence – from players, top-level coaches, owners, journalists, and even the Premier League itself – is part of a boycott that aims to counter a steady and growing stream of online racial harassment and abuse against black and brown soccer players in the United States to protest United Kingdom
Organizations and individuals involved in UK rugby, cricket, netball and Formula 1 are also participating in the boycott.
How bad is the problem? A football club, Manchester United, published its own analysis, stating that between September 2019 and February 2021, there was a 350% increase in online abuse against the club’s players, according to the BBC. According to the study, 86 percent of these jobs were racist, while 8 percent were homophobic or transphobic.
When it comes to what these social media platforms are doing to combat these online attacks, Musa Okwonga, a British author of three books on football, football commentator and contributor to The Ringer, argues that they don’t do much.
For example, Twitter released a statement in February seeking new ways for users to report abuse and launching initiatives like the #StandUpToHate campaign. But players – like Manchester City’s Kyle Walker, who shared a screenshot of a racist message he received after his club won the Carabao Cup last weekend – are urging these platforms to do more.
Black and brown players have received threats; They got bananas thrown at them. In one case, during a game between a French club, Paris Saint-Germain, and a Turkish club, Istanbul Başakşehir, the players decided to leave the field after a referee used a racist bow to focus on one of the blacks Trainer available.
And while a social media boycott is a short-term move, Okwonga believes this is a start. “When celebrities leave social media, they disempower those platforms,” he says.
NPR’s Michel Martin spoke to Okwonga about the history of racism in British football. Your conversation has been edited for content and length.
Would you walk us through the types of messages professional soccer players regularly receive on social media?
There are roughly two categories. One category is actually the use of emoji. So whenever players make a mistake or on the field [are seen] Monkey emojis that excel on Instagram or are having a good time appear below the [pictures]. And that happens endlessly to many people. The other thing is the repeated use of the word n ***** during games. This happens after games, when a player is outstanding, when a player misses a big one [shot]You will see this word everywhere.
So whether people win or lose, is there still abuse going on?
Yes, they are still being abused. Absolutely. It’s the visibility. Professor Ben Carrington, who studies the intersection of sports, football and social issues, speaks about it. He says that some soccer fans or racist fans who watch soccer use this racist epithet as a form of social sanction, a bit like a digital whip of sorts. So if you see a black player excelling on the field or having fun off the field, send that to him to put him in his place.
A prominent player named Kyle Walker recently shared some of the racist abuse he has received. And then he added a question addressed to Facebook and Twitter saying, when will it stop? Did any of the social media companies say or do something to address this?
Not really, no. I have to admit that I was a little skeptical. But then I got into it because what I think is very interesting. With great athletes – and this is not just football boycott – it is netball and cricket stars as well as Formula 1 drivers. When celebrities leave social media, they disempower those platforms. They’re removing legitimacy.
As early as 2016, women in sports media in the United States made similar efforts. They asked their male friends to read some of the tweets addressed to them. And they videotaped it and put it online and the men couldn’t do it. What about exercise that encourages this type of behavior?
So I think when you see someone like LeBron James or Megan Rapinoe doing something amazing in the field, we tend to say that they have an “athletic” intelligence. It is seen as a little less. So athletes, whatever they do on the field, they [are seen] than a lesser form of professional. When people watch sports we are generally encouraged to view athletes as instinctual and act for our entertainment. So there is also an element of property. When you look at an athlete performing for you, everything they do is lesser because they see it as a lesser form of the species, even if they are like multimillionaires.
So if we look at this context of ownership and the context of racism in America that you had blacks who owned until generations ago, you have a situation where people say, “We’re used to them.” We act to our advantage so we can tell them what we want. ”
And we look at patriarchy around the world and the way women are viewed as almost the property of many men because, in general, it is men who are online [direct] This abuse of women and blacks, this feeling of entitlement, is really bad. However, being behind a screen increases the security of a computer screen from hundreds of kilometers away.
I would like to point out that racism is not a new problem for English football. And it’s not just online. I mean, there have been instances where players used racist slurs on the field, referees used racist characters on the field, and fans were kicked out for, for example, throwing bananas at a black player. Has the Premier League done anything to fix this?
It took steps. It is forbidden to players before. They banned Luis Suárez for racism against a teammate, the Liverpool player against Manchester United. In some cases, they have banned people from soccer fields for life. So they took a few steps. But these companies can do even more. If you can make the kind of profit these companies make, you can afford to employ more people to fight racism online.
There are people who will listen to our conversation. You will be like that, so what? It’s just words, emojis, block it, don’t look at it. Why is that important?
I think when people say when people go “so what” I think do you really like women? Do you actually like black people? That’s a serious question because if you had a friend who came home and said, “I was raped at work today.” [you wouldn’t say]”Oh, go to the other room,” you wouldn’t say.
Then why is it acceptable for soccer players to receive rape threats in their workplace? It is not acceptable. Do you really care that the person is being abused? You actually need to listen to the pain that is causing it. So I actually have to ask them to go a step further and question their own motives in order to turn away from them. Because as we know, not only in America but also in Europe people very quickly avoid difficult conversations about racism and sexism and the rest of it.
Jeffrey Pierre and William Troop produced and edited the audio interview.
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