In the wake of the racism scandal surrounding the Montenegro – England Euro qualifier, it is worth remembering that young footballers have someone to look up to with regards to how they deal with the ugly spectre of racism – Raheem Sterling.
As a young black man who made a big-money leap from Liverpool to Manchester City, Raheem Sterling has come in for more than his fair share of abuse.
In the face of discrimination from some sections of opposition supporters and the media, however, Sterling has remained steadfast and is a shining example to other young players coming through the ranks.
It goes without saying that no one should ever have to deal with racism or with racists, but it is undeniably a problem in England and elsewhere.
Sterling was at the forefront of football’s debate on racist media coverage almost four months ago when he called out the double-standards in the English media when it came to reporting on black and white footballers.
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A brave Sterling stands up!
His actions were brave, and he has become the face of footballers fighting against racism. There was an outpouring of support for Sterling following the Instagram post, with several other players echoing his sentiments.
Still only 24, Sterling is now a relatively senior figure in the England dressing room. He is the one who can guide younger players like Jadon Sancho and Callum Hudson-Odoi through the quagmire that is 21st century football. It is a modern game, with the same old problems.
Those problems reared their heads again in Montenegro, as Sterling, Hudson-Odoi and Danny Rose were subjected to racist taunts by the home crowd. Sterling responded in the best way possible. He scored a goal, and let the crowd know that he heard them, and was above them with his celebration. In one fell swoop, he embarrassed their team, then embarrassed the fans.
The England camp handled themselves with dignity and poise after the game. Hudson-Odoi and Rose spoke eloquently and pointedly with the media about the issue, and Gareth Southgate, in particular, was impressive in his handling of the situation.
Raheem Sterling, however, leads the way in the fight against racism. As the most prominent black English player in the Premier League, he holds a central role in all of this. To his credit, he has not shied away from it. He is taking on racists in a public forum, challenging them, calling them out.
This goes beyond football, beyond the confines of a stadium. This goes to every newsroom, every pub and every home. This is beyond any club loyalty or national differences. Raheem Sterling is a hero for young players from visible minorities. He is not afraid to tackle racists head-on, and I hope more and more players join him in openly calling them out in the future.
Raheem Sterling stands against racism, and I stand with him.