THE BLOG

An Open Letter to the Football Community

14/12/2014 20:41 GMT | Updated 13/02/2015 10:59 GMT

Another week, another race or sexism in football story. Or two. Or three. Is it getting worse, or are we just better at spotting and punishing it now?

Dave Whelan has barely stayed out of the headlines, first appointing a manager under investigation for racism before coming under official scrutiny for racist comments himself. And then accidentally doubling down on those comments when he tried to defend himself.

These shouldn't be the football stories that we see. Not because we should ignore these issues - entirely the opposite, issues like this should be tackled swiftly and taken seriously every time they raise their ugly heads. No, these shouldn't be the football stories that we see because this isn't how football should be.

On the biggest stage, in front of millions of people, we as a sporting community (and you'd better believe that you personally count in this - players, fans, writers and investors) have a responsibility to be better than this.

This is where examples are set, this is where role models are forged. This is why it has to stop. It permeates all facets of our society. Will a 10-year-old see Dave Whelan's comments and imitate them? Probably not. Will an older fan, in their 40s or 50s see the comments and use them to justify their own behaviour? "Well see, everyone thinks it!" You're damn right they will. You're damn right, they do.

The notion that role models are only for children must be stamped out. Everyone reacts to the actions of somebody. When you're next on the terraces and the 50-year veteran next to you turns around and says something like (real-life example): "Hey, he's not bad for a coloured lad," don't just laugh it off. You know that you aren't a racist. You know that you don't share that view. But what's he seen? That he's made the point and you've laughed. You've agreed.

We are all each other's role models.

Some people think that large, for want of a better word, subcultures such as the footballing world reflect the mood of the society in general, but there's plenty of evidence to suggest that it's the other way around.

When a massive, hugely influential group like football fans get together, they can absolutely shape the world instead of being shaped by it. Sport can and does, make a difference.

The sporting world was shown at its best these past few weeks when Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes died after an accident on the field of play. The entire community - players through to casual fans - joined in united, sincere and emotional tribute to a good man gone too soon.

Football can have that community. Football DOES have that community. But it'll be buried under layers and layers of grime and dirt and the nasty side of things until we make an effort to drive away the outdated attitudes and the stubbornly held prejudices.

One of the first things that need to be banished from thought and memory is the word 'banter'. The next time someone justifies something clearly offensive by telling you it was 'just banter', mentally replace the phrase with "I firmly believe everything I just said, but I don't have the guts to admit it." It's become a byword for the horrible, insidious nature of the worst of the community to use as a shield.

All the Kick It Out schemes and work done at the top of the game can only work up to a point. This is a set of issues that can only be completely dealt with if football fans all work together. If you asked a hundred people at a football ground if they want racism to be eradicated from football, it's a fair bet that all of them would say yes. Everyone's willing, we just need to make it happen.

Let's do it.

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