The last few weeks in the English Premier League (EPL) served as a reminder to the soccer community that racism is still very present in the sport today. One of the disturbing incidents involved Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, a black striker for Arsenal, whose celebrations led to the opposing team’s fans pelting him with various objects, including a banana peel. Averie Panteli, the fan who threw the peel, denied any racial elements to the attack.
In court however, he was found guilty, fined $630, and banned from soccer matches for four years. The judge said that “it was a targeted gesture to throw a banana skin after a goal was scored by a black player.” Panteli and his defense maintain that he simply grabbed whatever was nearest, and that the player’s race was irrelevant.
This is not the only concerning event in soccer involving racism at present. Raheem Sterling, a forward for Manchester City, was subjected to racial abuse from fans in a recent match against Chelsea. While this incident is not exactly unusual, the ensuing reaction from the soccer community was new.
Sterling took to Twitter to discuss the treatment he sees given to black players by the media and fans, citing an example of two news headlines about two young footballers. These players both bought new homes for their mothers, but their actions were portrayed quite differently. “Young Manchester Footballer, 20, on £25,000 a week splashed out on mansion on market for £2.25 million, despite having never started a Premier League match” was the headline about a black player, whereas “Manchester City starlet Phil Foden buys new £2 million home for his mum” described the purchase by his white teammate. The disparity here is undeniable, and yet the responsibility is falling on the players to call out this mistreatment.
The Black Collective of Media in Sport (BCOMS) is an organization working to achieve equal depiction of black athletes in the media. BCOMS released a statement announcing that they “stand with Raheem Sterling and thank him for raising the issue of how the media portrays black footballers and communities across the country,” and that they hoped that Sterling’s comments would help serve as a wake up call to media as a whole.
Media depiction is often tinged with racism. Fortunately, a collective recognition is developing that there is racism in the sport. Time will tell if this recognition can be translated into action. Though it is discouraging to see this happening, with leaders such as Sterling, progress is being made.