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The independent London newspaper

Time for football to do the right thing

OPINION: The beautiful game needs BAME people in positions of power – not just scoring goals on the pitch

12 June, 2020 — By Richard Osley

Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, one of the many talented black footballers to play for London clubs

IT’S more than 30 years old, but Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, a film about racial tensions bubbling over on a hot summer’s day on the block, is worth revisiting as the Black Lives Matter demonstrations continue.

In one scene, Mookie, a black delivery man for an Italian pizzeria, questions why the owner’s son keeps casually using the N-word. “Pino, who’s your favourite basketball player?” Mookie asks, and gets “Magic Johnson” as a reply.

“Who’s your favourite movie star?” “Eddie Murphy”. (The film was made in 1989, long before Shrek and Mel B.)

“Who’s your favourite rock star?” Before Pino answers, Mookie guesses Prince, but of course it’s Bruce Springsteen. Even so, the point had been made.

Pino struggles on trying to explain why he loves black sports and film stars but speaks with such an ugly tongue about those who come in to buy a slice: “I mean, they’re not black. I mean, let me explain: they’re not really black. I mean they’re black but they’re not really black. It’s different.”

That scene comes to mind when Chelsea fans drive a black man off a train in Paris or shout racist abuse at Raheem Sterling, while delighting in the magic of Didier Drogba.

Or when a banana lands on the field of play next to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from fans of teams who all have had black heroes in their ranks. London football clubs in particular have been blessed with so many talented black football stars. I’m not suggesting Arsenal fans hold the historic high ground on racism, not when you remember some of the disgusting chants at Jewish Spurs fans. Every club has a few bad apples. Rotten, stinky apples.

As Chris Rock’s widely shared joke reminds us: “In some cases, in some jobs you can’t have any bad apples at all, the police and airline pilots… most of the pilots like to land the plane but a few bad apples prefer to crash into mountains.”

It’s still hard to understand how some fans seem able to flit between monkey chants and adulation.

One suggestion in the past has been that a racist, like Pino, makes a differentiation because entertainment is still controlled, in the main, by white people at the top.

The Premier League’s management, a football club’s directors and so on, are all white.

You can see, then, why these protests are not just aimed at one police department in Minnesota. They are aimed at everything, every walk of life, the whole structure.

On this paper, that means more BAME writers.

And in football, that means having BAME people in positions of power too – not just giving them the chance to get goals on the pitch, but also seeing them in roles to help run clubs and manage the sport.

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