Shirts vs. Skins

This feels like part 2 of my previous post. No sooner did I press “publish” on that entry then English soccer suddenly became all about racism.

Earlier in the week several England U-21s were subjected to racist chants from Serbian fans and the team was attacked by Serbian players and staff as they entered the tunnel following the game. The English FA are considering boycotting future matches in Serbia, and both teams are being hauled up for a review of the game at a UEFA meeting in late November.

Then, back in England, Jason Roberts of Reading announced that he was refusing to wear the “Kick It Out” campaign’s t-shirts during warm-up for the match vs. Liverpool this weekend. In refusing to wear the shirt Roberts is protesting what he has seen as a lack of action by the organization. Said Roberts, “I find it hard to wear a t-shirt after what has happened in the last year.” By that he was referring to the Luis Suarez/Patrice Evra incident (where Suarez was banned for 8 games for his racist remarks), and the John Terry/Anton Ferdinand incident (with public trial and 4 game ban for Terry’s remarks). Even the FA’s handling of the two incidents has come under fire with Suarez getting double the games that Terry got, and Terry still being selected to the England team for Euro 2012, while Anton’s brother Rio was dropped from the team (and then England manager Roy Hodgson decided to explain to some random people in a subway that Rio Ferdinand was done with the English squad).

Many other people involved with the game were very supportive of Roberts’ decision not to wear the t-shirt (including his manager; the rest of his team; Swansea and Swansea’s opponents, Wigan Athletic), but not King Alex of Manchester (I mean Sir Alex!). Sir Alex decided that Roberts stand was ridiculous, because Sir Alex as a rich, white, knight and living football legend surely must have a better understanding of racism in the sport than Jason Roberts (Jason Roberts is a MBE, two ranks lower than Sir Alex – so not a Sir). Sir Alex thinks that not wearing the shirt, “sends out the wrong message.” The message that Sir Alex wants to be out there is that the league and all the players are doing their best to get racism out of the game. What he fails to understand is that Roberts is making a very different, but equally important statement. Roberts is quite clearly unhappy with the progress that the FA and Kick It Out are making at getting racism out of the game. Roberts by not wearing the shirt is quite clearly taking a stand against racism, and against the lip service payed by the FA to the issue of racism in the game. By virtue of his skin colour and the country that he plays in, he takes a stand against racism in football every time he steps on the field. By not wearing the shirt he has called far more attention to the issue in the league than he ever could have by simply toeing the line.

Of course this then would have all died down after Sir Alex’s press conference and Roberts walking onto the field without the t-shirt. However, having put himself out there over how important it was to wear the shirt and insisting that his team would all be wearing them; Man U defender Rio Ferdinand then walks out on Saturday without the shirt on. The furious Sir Alex then said that he was disappointed that Ferdinand let the team down and, “would be dealt with.”

Ahh yes, make an example of a black player on a team by punishing him for not taking part in an anti-racism campaign, especially when that player’s brother was the one who was racially abused by the then captain of the England team. As much as I think Rio Ferdinand was a bit dense for not warning Sir Alex ahead of time that he didn’t plan to wear the t-shirt, if there is anyone in that league (besides his brother Anton, or his teammate Patrice Evra) who probably had good reasons for not wearing that t-shirt it was Rio. The optics of Man U punishing Rio for this would look about as good as the FA giving a four game suspension to a celebrated English player for essentially the same thing that they gave a Uruguayan player a 8 game ban. Oh. Never mind.

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