Is the UK tabloids’ coverage of Man City star Raheem Sterling racist?
Raheem Sterling, one of the English Premier League's brightest and most high-profile talents, is caught in the centre of a furious debate over racism in the stands and the UK press' portrayal of black footballers.
- Man City star Raheem Sterling has identified unequal coverage for black and white players in the English Premier League
- It comes after he appeared to receive racial abuse in the stands in a match in London
- The England winger has long copped criticism from the media, while tabloids have pored over the minutiae of his private life
Sterling, one of the first names on the team sheet for both England and Manchester City, has long had an uneasy relationship with the UK media and tabloids, which has pored over the minutiae of his personal life on top of critical coverage of his performances for the national team.
That coverage is now being put in the spotlight after the City forward copped a vitriolic earful from the stands during his team's loss to Chelsea away from home.
Premier League club Chelsea suspended four people from attending its matches after they appeared to verbally abuse Sterling from the stands in unsavoury scenes at Stamford Bridge in London.
It came after a fan threw a banana peel at Arsenal's Gabonese striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after he scored a goal against Tottenham Hotspur.
Sterling has responded to the Stamford Bridge incident, but only briefly.
"Regarding what was said at the Chelsea game, as you can see by my reaction I just had to laugh because I don't expect no better," he said on Instagram.
The emphasis of his Instagram post instead centred on recent media coverage of two of his younger team-mates.
Pointing out two pieces of coverage in the UK's Daily Mail, Sterling noted the different headlines and wording in the coverage of two similar stories — one of his white team-mate Phil Foden, and the other of black team-mate Tosin Adarabioyo — both of whom bought expensive houses for their mothers.
Both Foden and Adarabioyo are highly rated but still developing players in City's star-studded squad.
In his post, Sterling pointed out the story about Foden was framed positively, but Adarabioyo's article appeared to be negative.
"You have two young players starting out [their] careers, both play for the same team, both have done the right thing. Which is buy a new house for their mothers who have put in a lot of time and love into helping them get where they are, but look at how the newspapers get their message across for the young black player and then for the young white player," Sterling wrote.
Sterling labelled the contrast as "unacceptable".
"This young black kid is looked at in a bad light," Sterling wrote, "which helps fuel racism [and] aggressive behaviour.
"So for all the newspapers that don't understand why people are racist in this day and age all I have to say is have a second thought about fair publicity [and] give all players an equal chance."
Sterling has long been in the media's sights
Sterling copped mounting criticism during England's doomed Euro 2016 campaign — where it was famously eliminated by underdog Iceland — while coverage of the winger in the build-up to the 2018 World Cup centred around his tattoo of an assault rifle.
Sterling defended the tattoo on his right leg, saying it was a tribute to his late father who was shot dead when Sterling was just two years old.
Several on social media have pointed out a stream of the media's coverage of Sterling where the winger appears to be singled out.
But Neil Custis, a football writer for UK tabloid The Sun, says there is nothing racist about the coverage, pointing to coverage over the years of England superstars David Beckham and Wayne Rooney.
"Raheem Sterling, for me, is a brilliant example of a player who has worked so hard at his trade to get to where he is," Custis told football talkback show TalkSport.
"It is just stories about footballers. That's what it is. It's not about colour or race or anything like that. It's just stories about footballers.
"Look at the stories about Wayne Rooney over the years. Hundreds, thousands of them about his lifestyle, his family, having a wee in an alleyway after a party or something like that.
"These are high-profile figures, footballers. Wayne Rooney has had thousands of stories written about him. David Beckham had thousands of stories written about him. It is about footballers. It's about superstars. It's about high-profile people.
"The newspaper doesn't look at it and say one's black, one's white, let's consider how we're going to do it. It's just not like that."
But former players disagree.
Robbie Earle, who played for the now-defunct Premier League club Wimbledon, and was an ambassador for Show Racism the Red Card, said there is a racist tinge to the coverage.
"I've talked to lots of players back in England, current and ex-players, the majority of them black players, and there is a feeling that Raheem Sterling gets racist connotations, racist criticism that wouldn't be the same if he was a white player," Earle told NBC.
Sterling's former media adviser Paul McCarthy said he had asked tabloid reporters why Sterling appeared to be singled out, but could not get a straight answer.
He said labelling Sterling's lifestyle as "bling" was "tabloid shorthand for a young black lifestyle", and that the reporter told him the player should expect it because "that's just how it is".
External Link: Paul McCarthy tweet: "When acting as a media advisor to @sterling7 , I once asked a tabloid news reporter who had written several derogatory stories about Raheem why he was singled out above seemingly every other Premier League footballer for this kind of treatment. This came off the back of Sergio Aguero fracturing a rib in a car crash in Amsterdam when he'd taken a private jet to a concert during a few days off. It made the papers but barely raised a ripple" External Link: Paul McCarthy tweet thread: "My argument was, had it been Raheem, he would have been denounced and accused of living the 'bling' lifestyle (tabloid shorthand for a young black lifestyle) and made a scapegoat whereas Aguero didn't receive anything like the same level of opprobrium. Despite a lengthy discussion, the reporter couldn't give me any answer other than, 'Well, you know, Raheem should expect it. That's just how it is.'"
Racism in media coverage is 'blatant'
Former England coach and media analyst Gary Neville said he spoke to Sterling during the 2016 Euros tournament, when the player came to him to discuss the critical media coverage.
Neville said the coverage surrounding Sterling now is blatantly racist.
"As a coach — on reflection — I didn't know how to deal with it. I went into protection mode, coach mode — 'Raheem you're a great player and we love you to bits'," Neville said on Sky Sports.
"I tried to almost patch him up, to a point where you were never dealing with the underlying issue and maybe you couldn't. Reflecting now, maybe even brushing it aside a little bit.
"He was willing to stand up and play but he's been carrying this for years. He's a tough lad to come through everything he's come through and the scrutiny, to perform like he has done is a miracle almost."
Fellow Sky panellist Jamie Carragher, who played alongside Sterling at Liverpool, said the representation of Sterling as "being more interested in money and flashness" had a racial undertone.
"The perception is of a young, flash, black kid from London. A lot of it comes from maybe moving from Liverpool — the perception that he's more interested in cars, jewellery, night clubs than football," Carragher said.
"Anyone writing that, it's garbage. Raheem was a mouse. He wasn't on nights out, he was humble and trained very well.
"He's never been able to shake off that tag of being more interested in money and flashness. He might buy a ring or something for his mother and that's always the story. I think it has racial undertones."
England's Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) has backed Sterling in a statement, and also made the link between media coverage and racism in the stands.
"While it may be true that no racial slurs have been used in the press coverage received by Raheem and others, we are in no doubt that the negative narrative influences public opinion and emboldens racist rhetoric," it said.
Black Collective of Media in Sport, an organisation which pushes for more diversity among people employed within sports media, said in a statement: "BCOMS stands with Raheem Sterling and thanks him for raising the issue of how the media portrays black footballers and communities across the country.
"We hope this serves as a wake-up call not just for the newspapers, but all the media, and ask them to reassess how they treat Raheem and portray black sports men and women."
Chelsea to support police investigation into abuse
As for the abuse Sterling copped from the Stamford Bridge stands, police are reviewing footage that circulated widely online during Chelsea's over City, showing a man hurling abuse at Sterling as he retrieved the ball, while others nearby appeared to join in.
Chelsea said the club was fully supporting the police investigation and will pass on any information it gathers.
"Chelsea finds all forms of discriminatory behaviour abhorrent," the London club said in a statement.
"If there is evidence of ticket-holders taking part in any racist behaviour, the club will issue severe sanctions, including bans. We will also fully support any criminal prosecutions."