Footballers and campaigners have swung behind Raheem Sterling after the Manchester City forward hit out at the media treatment of black players following allegedly suffering racist abuse during a game.
The 24-year-old on Sunday accused sections of the media of fuelling prejudice in a post on Instagram as the Metropolitan Police confirmed it is investigating footage appearing to show Sterling being verbally abused.
Sterling’s criticism of the media – he highlighted screenshots of two online Daily Mail stories – immediately won support on social media from players and pundits, including Gary Lineker and Stan Collymore.
Campaigners and groups that represent players also backed the England striker.
Rodney Hinds, co-founder of Football Black List, which highlights role models from the black and minority ethnic community who are working in football, told HuffPost UK that “young black men do not deserve to be abused in their place of work”, and said Sterling has been the victim of “some really negative press”.
He said: “The Sterling incident, in 2018, is absolutely ridiculous and we need the authorities to step up and deal with this.”
Sterling’s post included screenshots of Mail articles reporting on footballers buying multi-million pound homes for their mothers, both with starkly different headlines.
After months of concerns from fans about how he is treated by some facets of the press, it was the first time that Sterling had addressed the matter publicly.
One story from January is about Tosin Adarabioyo, a black Manchester City player, and the other Phil Foden, a white player for the same club.
The difference in how both men are described in each article suggests a biased approach to reporting based upon ethnicity, critics say.
Hours after Sterling’s Instagram post, Adarabioyo, a defender on loan to West Bromwich Albion, tweeted in support of his former teammate.
“When they try to abuse and bring us down but God has protected you from all angles,” he wrote, attaching a photo of himself and Sterling.
In a statement released today, the Professional Footballers’ Association said it “stands with Sterling” and pledged its support of the 24-year-old sportsman.
The players’ union condemned “in the strongest possible terms” the increase in racial abuse against players from the terraces.
Simone Pound, the PFA’s head of equality and diversity, added: “Football is a microcosm of society and incidents such as this highlight the current political climate.
“Raheem has made a stand by speaking out and we stand shoulder to shoulder with him against the discrimination of which he speaks. We all have a part to play in tackling racism and discrimination and certain sectors of the media must be held to account.
“The PFA are resolute in their work, challenging and tackling equality issues on behalf of the players.”
Hinds, of Football Black List, feels that the onus is on the Chelsea and the Football Association to address Saturday’s incident.
“It will be interesting to see what they do in moving this forward,” he reflected.
“Raheem Sterling has been the victim of some really negative press and for him to make the statement that he did on social media yesterday was a real heartfelt plea that young black men do not deserve, just like everybody else, to be abused in their place of work - and that’s what the football field is.
“There’s obviously a problem and if it’s not dealt with correctly - there will continue to be a problem.”
Hinds added that recent events with Sterling, and the fan who threw a banana skin at Arsenal striker Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang, suggest that “there’s an awful lot of work to do” and highlights the importance of initiatives such as FBL in serving the interests of the underrepresented.
Journalists also backed Sterling. In a Good Morning Britain interview this morning, The Times sports reporter Henry Winter agreed with Sterling’s accusation that British press unfairly targets non-white players and stated that media organisations are “absolutely going to have to look at themselves”.
In November, anti-discrimination charity Kick It Out released figures that showed reports of discriminatory abuse within football were up 11% last season (2017/18), the sixth successive annual rise.
Of the 520 reported incidents, 53% were racism related - a 22% increase from the previous season.