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The world of online English football is surprisingly quiet, despite a busy weekend with important matches.
Saturday’s win brought Manchester City one step closer to their third league title in four years. West Ham United are competing for their first five spots in years, while Liverpool fights for their own place, which could guarantee clubs a coveted place in international competitions.
But from Friday through Monday, the official social media of the football world will be silent on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at this crucial point in the season.
Silence – by players, top-level coaches, owners, journalists, and even the Premier League itself – is part of a boycott aimed at protesting the ongoing and growing stream of online racist harassment targeting black and brown footballers in the United States. United kingdom
Organizations and people involved in British rugby, cricket, netball and Formula 1 participate in the province as well.
How bad is the problem? One soccer club, Manchester United, released its own analysis, saying it had detected a 350% increase in internet abuse directed at the club’s players between September 2019 and February 2021, according to BBC. Eighty-six percent of those posts were racist, according to the study, while 8 percent were anti-gay or anti-gay.
When it comes to what these social media platforms are doing to fight these online attacks, Moses Okonja, British author of three soccer books, football commentator and contributor to The Ringer, says they don’t do much.
Twitter, for example, has released a statement In February it said it was looking for new ways for users to report abuse and initiate 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 asking the platforms to do more.
Black and brown players received threats. They threw bananas at them. In one case, during a match between a French club, Paris Saint-Germain, and a Turkish club, Istanbul Basaksehir, the players chose to leave the field after the referee used racist slurs to refer to a black coach.
And while boycotting social media is a short-term measure, Okwonga thinks it’s the beginning. “When celebrities leave social media, they undermine those platforms,” he says.
NPR’s Michelle Martin spoke to Okwonga on All things considered On the history of racism in British football. Their conversation has been modified for content and length.
Will you tell us what types of messages professional footballers of color receive on social media on a regular basis?
There are roughly two categories. One category is actually the use of emojis. Therefore, when players make a foul on the field or [are seen] Top or have fun on Instagram, monkey emoji will appear below a file [pictures]. And this happens infinitely to a lot of people. The other thing is the frequent use of the word n ***** throughout the matches. This happens after matches, when a player outperforms, when a big player misses [shot]You will see this word everywhere.
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So, whether people are winning or losing, is there still abuse?
Yes, they are still being mistreated. Absolutely. It is the vision. Professor Ben Carrington, who covers the overlap between sport, football and social issues, talks about this. He says that in fact for some football fans or racist fans who watch football, they are using this racist trait as a form of social punishment, like a kind of digital whip. So, when you see a black player excel on the field or enjoying his time off the field, you send him to put him in his shoes.
A prominent player named Kyle Walker recently shared some of his racist abuse. Then he added a question to the likes of Facebook and Twitter saying when would it stop? Did any of the social media companies say or do anything to address this?
No, really not. I have to admit I was a bit skeptical. But then I came up with it because what I think is very helpful. When the big athletes – this isn’t just a soccer boycott, it’s the netball stars, cricket stars and Formula 1 drivers. When celebrities leave social media, they erode those platforms. They remove legitimacy.
In 2016, women in the US sports media made similar efforts. They asked their male friends to read some tweets directed at them. They videotaped it and put it on the internet and the men couldn’t do that. What makes sport encourage this type of behavior?
So, I think, first of all, when you see someone like LeBron James or Megan Rapinoe doing something cool on the field, we tend to say they have a “mathematical” intelligence. It counts as nothing less. So the athletes, whatever they do on the field, they are [are seen] As a less professional form. When people watch sports, in general, we are encouraged to view athletes as acting by instinct and that they are acting for our entertainment. So there is also an element of ownership. When you look at an athlete giving you a performance, everything he’s doing is less because they see him as a lesser form of the species, even if they’re like, you know, millionaires.
So if we take this context of ownership and context, let’s say, racism in America, where you had black people who were owned up to generations ago, you have a situation where people are like, “We got used to them performing for our benefit so we can say what we like to them.”
And we look at patriarchy all over the world and the way women are seen as the property of almost a lot of men, because, in general, men online are [direct] This abuse of women and blacks, this sense of entitlement is really bad. But when you are behind a screen, the security of a computer screen is amplified from hundreds of kilometers away.
I want to point out that racism is not a new problem in English football. And it’s not just the Internet. I mean, there have been cases of players using racist insults on the court, referees using racist characters on the field, fans getting fired for doing things like throwing bananas at a black player. Has the Premier League done anything to address this?
I have taken steps. Players have been banned before. Luis Suarez was banned due to a racist incident against fellow Liverpool player against Manchester United. In some cases, they banned people from entering soccer stadiums for life. So, they took some steps. But there is still more that these companies can do. If you are making the kind of profits these companies are making, you can afford to hire more people to tackle online racism.
There are people who will listen to our conversation. They will be like, so what? It’s just words, emojis, block it, don’t look at it. Why is this important?
I think when people say that if people are going to say “so what,” I think, do you really like women? Do you really like black people? That’s a serious question, because if you have a girlfriend who comes home and says, “I was raped at work today,” [you wouldn’t say], “Oh, go to the other room,” you won’t say.
Why, then, is it acceptable for soccer players to receive threats of rape in their workplace? this is unacceptable. Do you really care about the person who is being abused? You actually have to listen to the pain it causes them. So I must actually ask them to go ahead and inquire about their own motivations for wanting to walk away from it. Because as we know, not just in America but in Europe, people are quick to avoid difficult conversations about racism, gender discrimination and what’s left of it.
Geoffrey Pierre and William Trobe produced and edited the audio interview.