If you’re a regular visitor to this site, you may have read a post or two about how I am married to an English Premier League fanatic. Jacek is Canadian and hockey is not his favourite sport. Over the last decade or so, football or soccer (depending on where you live and what terms are used) is his obsession and Tottenham Hotspur his team. So I’m familiar with the culture of the EPL and how over the last year, players have been taking a knee before matches to repudiate racism. As it is in many sports, and basically SOCIETY, there’s a lot of racism in football – at every level; it’s not just the fans, it’s also other players, it’s coaches, it’s referees. Racist acts have been making headlines recently in the sport, especially over the last few days with Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford addressing the grossness that he’s been getting on social media. The league and the FA have issued statements condemning racism. And now Prince William, who is the president of the Football Association, has made a statement on Twitter – thread:
Racist abuse - whether on the pitch, in the stands, or on social media - is despicable and it must stop now. (1/3)— The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (@KensingtonRoyal) January 31, 2021
We all have a responsibility to create an environment where such abuse is not tolerated, and those who choose to spread hate and division are held accountable for their actions. That responsibility extends to the platforms where so much of this activity now takes place. (2/3)— The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (@KensingtonRoyal) January 31, 2021
I commend all those players, supporters, clubs and organisations who continue to call out and condemn this abuse in the strongest terms. - W (3/3)— The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (@KensingtonRoyal) January 31, 2021
As you can see, there are many who are calling out in the comments underneath that if we’re talking about racist abuse on social media, William and the British royal family weren’t exactly standing up for Meghan Markle, a family member, when there were all kinds of racist attacks on her both on social media and the tabloid media, including the Daily Mail, with its “Straight Outta Compton” headline about her mother, Doria Ragland, and other similar offences. In fact, somehow the Daily Mail and the other tabloids consistently get royal exclusives that are leaked from within the British royal institution. Which is why it’s being pointed out by some that William speaking out against racism on behalf of the sport, and remaining silent when it was his kin, might be inconsistent… at best. And of course the British royal family was pretty silent on Black Lives Matter when protests in support of racial justice were happening all around the world this past summer. Defenders of the royal family’s notable absence on the situation keep insisting that BLM is a “political” issue, a position that looks even more ludicrous now that BLM has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
When we know better, we can do better. That’s true for most of us, non? It’s certainly true for me and I’ve had the privilege to have a platform to try to do better. No one has more privilege than Prince William so… can we expect better? Is this statement denouncing racism the beginning of the Cambridges’ attempts to be unequivocally and publicly anti-racist? And if so, how will it be covered?
When Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have called out racism and advocated for racial justice, they’ve been accused of virtue signalling and performative wokery. I can recall several columns in the Daily Mail mocking them for their advocacy. You think Prince William will get the same treatment?
While we’re here though, and we’re talking about the EPL and football and sports in general, maybe one area we can put more thought into is the transactional aspect of sport and also the language that accompanies it. In North American sports, the verbs primarily associated with player and personnel changes is “trade” and/or “acquire”. This player was traded to that team. This team acquired this player. Not a great way to refer to people, especially when you consider that professional teams have “owners”. It’s the reason there are already people who have posited that there’s an undeniable connection between sport and slavery – and that applies to sport at the professional and amateur levels.
In pro football/soccer, the terms that are used go beyond “trade” and “owner”. When a player moves from one team to another, the common and accepted terminology is “sold” and “bought”. Manchester United BOUGHT this player from that team. This player was SOLD by Real Madrid to AC Milan. It’s jarring to hear and when you see it accompanied by a video of a player, especially a BIPOC player, it’s especially disturbing.
Of course, yes, in the case of pro athletes, these are people who are making millions, often hundreds of million dollars already, and right now in particular, during a pandemic, when social disparities are even more pronounced than ever, I’m sure it’s not a pressing concern the vocabulary we use to discuss sports transactions. That said, these are indeed transactions involving people and there is a certain dehumanisation that comes with any transactional exchange. When you consider that more and more people of colour are the dominant figures in many high-profile professional sports, and some of them are actively leading the conversation about agency and self-determination in their chosen careers, if even they don’t feel like they’re playing on a level field, or court, then what about those without their influence? So while it may not be at the top of the list of things to think about, maybe it’s something to keep in mind for those of us who do engage with sport, since we’re all learning and growing together now and interrogating how we can shift our lenses and how language and communication can entrench stereotypes and the status quo, and consider a better way to move forward.