Racism and Voyeurism in Professional Sports – Part 2

Part 2 of Vee dee Cleyre’s look into the ugly side of professional sports.
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Mario Balotelli
Mario Balotelli (Marco Luzzani / Getty Images)

(Note: You can read part 1 of Racism and Voyeurism in Professional Sports here.)

In many ways, this piece is centered around the scrutiny mentioned in Part 1. After all, it permeates almost every aspect of social life in the West and has a profound impact on sports. It is the means by which covert bias and racism is sort of laundered to appear reasonable and enables the evident and obvious abuse on display in City’s game against Chelsea. Sterling himself bravely took to social media to discuss the ways that the more covert bias expressed in the press directly fuels the blatant abuse he suffered during the match by posting on Instagram screenshots of the differing media coverage black and white athletes receive.

A Daily Mail headline from January of this year concerning black City prospect Tosin Adarabioyo reads “Young Manchester City footballer, 20, on £25,000 a week splashes out on mansion on market for £2.25million despite having never started a Premier League match”. While another from this October concerning white prospect Phil Foden reads “Manchester City starlet Phil Foden buys a new £2m home for his mum”. The first article focuses on Adarabioyo’s contract negotiations, demand for higher wages, potential to leave the team, and the flashiness of the neighborhood he purchased his home. It doesn’t even mention that the home was intended for his mother.

The second article focuses on Foden’s commitment to his family, his gratitude towards his parents, and mentions things like his sobriety and disdain for credit cards. It doesn’t mention that he had never started in the Premier League, his contract negotiations, or the fact that he too was at one point rumored to be leaving the club. Two players in the same city, playing for the same club, buying homes at basically the same cost for the same reason at virtually the same age, two very different articles.

Taken by themselves Foden’s piece is heartwarming and one could look at Adarabioyo’s article and suggest that he could have opted for less prestigious accommodations. That in and of itself is colored by racism, after all, even Foden’s article makes one passing line regarding the glitz of his new neighborhood so why should Adarabioyo be held to any different standard? But the point is that taken together there is an obvious and clear bias by the Daily Mail towards the white player and against the black one.

You can also see similar dynamics play out in Sterling’s own career as some pundit’s early focus compared to other white players. His apparent lack of production looks more and more ridiculous as he emerges as a key element of both England and the virtually indisputably best team in the world right now. Or with the incessant and unending chorus of internet warriors that condescendingly demand World Cup Champion Paul Pogba focus more on soccer than his hair. In fact, this form of coverage is so typical that black COPA90 personality Aaron West joked on Twitter that British tabloid’s headlines would read “ Angry Black Man Assaults Bournemouth Net” after Sterling scored on December 1st.

It’s also worth pointing out that the response to Sterling’s post was affected by these biases with all their shades on display. On the one hand, you had your over racist slurs and whatnot, followed by your less overt but still pretty obvious “you’re reaching this wasn’t actually racist it’s normal for an away player” to the cloying way his grace was discussed on many media networks. It may be confusing to consider, for example, NBC praising the way that Sterling handled this incident with poise and grace that he did as indicative of some kind of bias. After all, they were largely complementary. But it’s outrageous to expect any marginalized group to react so kindly when met with horrifying abuse. 

Just look at the coverage of Balotelli when he unveiled his considered infamous “Why Always Me” shirt compared to Sterling’s grace or even Balotelli’s calm apathy to the deluge of bananas he faced at a tournament in Denmark in 2009. He was absolutely skewered by most media outlets for unveiling that shirt after scoring against Manchester United in 2011. It was shown as proof of his arrogance and lack of commitment to the team despite addressing the exact same thing that Sterling perhaps less aggressively spoke to with his Instagram post this weekend.

This policing of behavior is yet another example of how many white people dictate what is and is not acceptable behavior from black athletes. Another racist standardized within an already biased standard of coverage. Consistently those who conduct themselves within the bounds of an old-fashioned, white defined “civility” are given more credence than those who justifiably react with less composure to outrageous abuse. Both Sterling and Balotelli’s method of dealing with the disproportional abuse they face are perfectly acceptable given the circumstances, yet you will rarely find positive coverage of the later.

I partially chose to bring up Balotelli for that reason in the first place. In some way, he’s become the poster child for racist over-scrutiny of black players in Europe. And don’t get me wrong, I am not making excuses for 24-year-old men lighting off fireworks in hotel rooms to name just one example. Too often the reaction to this line of reasoning is “well he did something bad that he should be criticized for, do you want him to get off scot-free?” The answer is no, that is clearly bad and should be criticized, as particularly irresponsible actions of all athletes should be. But the key word is all. And right now there is a clear dynamic where black players face overwhelming condemnation for their actions while so many white players escape with comparatively little retribution.

Qrewcial will have the third and final part of this series next week.

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