The tabloid pile-on against Man City and England Midfielder Raheem Sterling, which has been going on for years, has reached a crescendo in the last few days. He has been the subject of a rather disproportionate amount of outrage due to a tattoo on his right leg, depicting an M16 assault rifle. But this isn’t the first time he’s been berated by the press.
After the tattoo reached the front page of the Sun on Tuesday and having numerous high-profile people in the media crawl out of the woodwork to demand he was dropped from the team, Raheem was forced to come out and defend himself. In an Instagram post he made, he said: “When I was two, my father died from being gunned down to death. I made a promise to myself I would never touch a gun in my life time. I shoot with my right foot, so it has a deeper meaning”.
Bigger Issues at Hand
It’s surely obvious as to why someone who shoots with his right foot would get a weaponry-themed tattoo? If it’s supposedly too offensive, fine, but in the interests of consistency, shouldn’t we be calling for Arsenal’s crest to be changed, as it depicts weaponry? Also, it’s on his calf – most footballers play with their socks pulled up, so it would be covered anyway.
In my view, the fact it is mainly two right-wing papers, The Sun and Daily Mail, who attack him, suggests to me a few bigger issues at play. He’s a working-class kid who has never shied away from his roots. From a class standpoint, the same happened with Wayne Rooney, who was berated and stereotyped. The difference is, Sterling is also black, so he gets twice the amount of vitriol from people who can’t stand the fact a working-class kid from a council estate in North London has dared to rise above his station. This was shown when he was lambasted for being greedy, after he asked for a pay rise following a highly successful season.
One might think that with recent efforts to kick racism out of football, the game is more progressive. Superficially, it is. But nothing has changed within the culture of certain sections of the media. The Sun and Daily Mail love an easy target – and at just 23, Raheem is the target of choice. But he deserves far better treatment than he gets. Not only does he have to contend with a regular trashing by the gutter press, he has to deal with racial abuse in person – like when he was attacked in the players’ car park 4 hours before playing Tottenham at the Etihad last season. He simply parked his car, played, and scored twice. Is it surprising this eventually happened, given the anger and hatred stirred up by newspapers that ought to know better?
Unfair and Absurd Standards
Just like how the media portrayed Wayne Rooney, they pick on Sterling’s intellect. The phrase “footie idiot” seems to be used a lot. The suggestion that he’s a bit simple or just completely naïve is constantly alluded to, as if being a footballer requires MENSA-level intelligence. It’s never usually sports reporters either, but “news” reporters in the front pages reporting on supposedly ostentatious behaviour like Sterling buying his mum a house, with a diamond-encrusted sink (which was described by The Sun as “obscene”). He’s not the first footballer to buy his mum a house, so why is it considered newsworthy? Much was made of the fact he had a child at 17, something that happens up and down the country every day – again, how is that deemed newsworthy?
In addition, why is his very brief time in Jamaica as a child considered relevant? Is it to perpetuate ideas of him being an outsider or an ‘other’, or just not truly English”? When he asked to be left out of England’s Euro 2016 qualifier against Estonia because he was experiencing fatigue, the same culprits ran with the idea that he was just a bit “tired”. Front page stories, using language to portray him as merely just being a lazy prima-donna for being “tired” just play into the hands of those who perpetuate stereotypes of ethnic minorities being lazy or with no work ethic. I’d like to see some of these middle-aged newspaper editors do a full 90 minutes on a regular basis.
Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t
Sterling doesn’t just get hounded for spending big (and then is subsequently called “blingy”). He gets lambasted for being thrifty too. When Raheem opted to fly back from a holiday on an £80 easyJet flight, he was berated by the Daily Mail for being cheap. At the end of this season, he was criticised for hiring a private jet and going on 2 different holidays in a week. On 3 other occasions, Sterling was criticised for shopping for batteries in Poundland, buying clothes in Primark and visiting Greggs.
Raheem made the headlines last year when the Sun’s front page depicted him with a woman on holiday in Jamaica and the words “Prem Rat”. The woman in question was later discovered to be a female friend. When Sterling eventually proposed to his girlfriend, it was marred by the press still referring to him as a “love rat” in the headline and referring to his girlfriend Paige Milian as “long-suffering”. Compare this to the overtly positive and glowing portrayal given to other England footballers on the announcement of their nuptials and you begin to see a double standard.
“Know your place”
He can’t win. He spends lavishly, as most footballers do, and gets dragged for it. Yet if he frequents the same shops as the average person, he gets slated for being too cheap. Considering The Sun added up the total cost of every car he has ever driven, it’s fair to say the media are more than a bit obsessed.
For me, it all comes down to one thing. The media, largely comprised of privately educated and middle-class men, is telling a working-class black man to “know your place”. There is still pervasive snobbery and racism towards those deemed to have ‘’over-achieved’’ and found themselves earning millions a year. Weirdly, it’s the same papers who spend all year before the world cup calling them “our boys” and grossly over-estimating their talent, who then go on a complete witch-hunt against a select few. Football is one of the few industries that could accurately be described as a meritocracy – with people of all backgrounds and races getting to the top. It’s a shame that media coverage of the game doesn’t always reflect this.