Raheem Sterling is a footballer for Manchester City and England, and at 24 years old he has become one of the most important athletes in English sport. Part of that comes down to his ability, which is prodigious, but the reason for his extreme newsworthiness is more than just goals and assists, but also the role he has taken up in fighting the racism that pervades what old men call "the beautiful game", and for us that is a terrible thing.
We do not want Raheem Sterling to stop fighting racism, and we are not in favour of racism itself, although I suppose that’s exactly what a racist would say in mixed company. No, the reason Raheem Sterling’s situation is so sad is that it still falls on one guy in his mid-20s to call out the lowest of the low, be they in the media, on the pitch, or in the stands as we saw last night. That is why esports should hope we never need a Raheem Sterling, but that is the direction we’re headed.
For those not in the know, England travelled to Montenegro on Monday night for a match in the qualification process for Euro 2020, which is to be held across the continent, where their players were racially abused throughout the game. This is not the first time an English team has gone to Montenegro, and not the first time England players have had to endure monkey chants and other racist abuse, from the crowd and the opposition bench, but that matters not to governing body UEFA. Nations like Montenegro and Serbia have been doing this for years, and the people with the power to ban them care not one jot for the safety of those being abused. The opposition coach, of course, heard nothing...
Expecting the crowd to be happy in the face of the 5-1 drubbing England handed out is too much of course, but any person who resorts to racism in the face of a loss has no place in sport. It’s pretty clear Montenegro would also be no loss from a competitive point of view, but that must be ignored, as any and all racism is abhorrent, regardless of how good at football the abusers may be. The fact that Sterling himself has to call this out is appalling, and this is far from the first time he’s responded with grace after being attacked for living his life.
Not just Montenegro
Below is a selection of headlines about the player, all of which have a decidedly sinister and negative tone, and all of which were printed in the English press. It’s easy to point at the speed we eject racists from stadia as proof we’re better than Serbia and their like, but our biggest papers still indulge in this insidious abuse of certain players, and the public are not exactly guilt free either when it comes to letting Raheem get on with being himself.
Even at the Man City training ground, where the player is at home and supported as he should ever be in his professional life, Sterling was attacked and racially abused, only to react with calm and play for his team hours later, and that is far from the only attack on him the public has made. All of this is great credit to the man himself, and also embarrassing in the fact it ever occurred, and that he should ever have to deal with it in such a wealthy, developed nation in 2019.
That is why the esports community must pray we never need a Raheem Sterling, but it may be too late for that. Already people like Dominique ‘SonicFox’ McLean have faced ill-natured sniping for being different, and reacted with pride, but there is a degree of support for the sniping, sneering negatively he has to deal with daily. Even big names from other games take time out of their day to mock his lifestyle, or his pride in being different, as if it were some kind of threat to their own existence.
As for Sterling, he is a credit to himself and his family, and if you know his story you’ll understand what a remarkable person he really is, given what might have become of him. Football is too big to die, which is why racism and maybe rape are ignored in favour of a good result. Esports should pray it never gets to the point where a young player is forced to call these things out on their own, as Sterling has, but to be honest we may be past that stage already, and just not aware yet.