Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last two weeks, there’s little chance you wouldn’t have heard about the outcome of trial in the United States which has caused something of an outrage both nationally and internationally, divided opinion among the country’s residents and possibly set race relations back about 50 years. In case you don’t know, George Zimmerman, having shot and killed an unarmed black teenager, was found not guilty of murder citing self-defence in accordance with the controversial ‘stand your ground’ law. The jury decided that despite the fact Zimmerman was carrying a gun and instigated the confrontation with 17-year old Trayvon Martin, he was well within his rights to pull the trigger on the person he believed ‘looked like trouble’. When the trial began, the judge explicitly said that race should not be taken into consideration. However, at its conclusion, almost all the debate and discussion has centred on the skin colour of the victim, and whether he was ‘racially profiled’ by his killer. The long and short of it is black people in America and worldwide are angry and upset. Why? Because this verdict virtually permits the shooting of black people if you suspect, without evidence, they are up to no good. White America, for the most part at least, says race wasn’t an issue in this case and, while not putting it in these exact terms, seems to be suggesting that black people shouldn’t be so sensitive.
I think you see where I’m going with this.
There is a growing possibility that a certain Luis Suarez may well swap the red shirt of Liverpool for that of Arsenal in the coming days/weeks. A bid has been lodged by the club and Liverpool will almost certainly be prepared to allow their talismanic striker to leave for the right price – even if it is to join a rival. On paper, this would be fantastic. Suarez is easily in the top three players in the league at present. A mercurial talent who is tailor-made for an archetypal Arsene Wenger team and exactly the sort of big name, marquee acquisition that could propel The Arsenal right back into the position to challenge for honours.
Of course, things are never that simple. For all his ability, there comes a Heathrow airport sized conveyor belt of baggage that could undermine anything he sets out to achieve in his career. Including, but not restricted to, a racial abuse charge following an altercation with Manchester United’s Patrice Evra that saw him banned for eight games just last year.
The condemnation when details of the report came to light was almost universal. “[I kicked you] because you are black” and “I don’t talk to blacks” go above and beyond what is deemed acceptable as far as on pitch ‘banter’ or sledging is concerned. These were calculated expressions of racially motivated insults which are wholly unacceptable in any circumstance, whoever you support. It was embarrassing to see Liverpool fans trying to defend his actions and quite shameful to think that simply because of ‘football’ you would somehow try and justify what Suarez said that day. I wrongly assumed that Arsenal fans would be better than that.
Since it became apparent that the club were trying to sign Suarez, people have been out in force trying to excuse his past and in particular this issue involving Evra – a player who is hardly an angel himself and certainly not one that elicits much sympathy given his own chequered past. Be it fighting stewards, the crass ‘men and boys’ comments aimed at our players or his shocking unprofessionalism during 2010 World Cup. Even on this occasion, the Frenchman’s initial alleged “your sister’s pussy” comment means he hardly comes across as whiter than white if you can excuse the terminology. Nevertheless, none of that means he deserves to be racially abused. Of course, it would be ridiculous to even try and compare Suarez to Zimmerman. The striker has not killed anybody. But there is undoubtedly a feeling that his very presence stirs up similar feelings of anger and tension. The simple fact that Suarez’ default response in this situation was to attack the colour of Evra’s skin suggests something far more sinister than a simple regrettable heat-of-the-moment reaction.
The idea that it is ‘in the past’ or that he deserves any sort of forgiveness or redemption are unfortunately difficult values to try and endorse for the sake of football. Cultural misunderstanding? Please! I defy you to find anywhere on planet earth where there is no understanding that referring to black people in such an insulting manner isn’t racist. Even so, at the time of the incident, Suarez had been playing in England long enough to know full well what he said was out of order.
Like in the Trayvon Martin case, it seems that only those who can relate to the victim will truly understand the anguish caused by Suarez’ words. If one has ever witnessed, felt and experienced that very prejudice Suarez was found guilty of perpetrating, it becomes quite clear why he should always be persona non grata at The Grove. How could a black Arsenal fan – of whom we have many – go to the Emirates and cheer a player who openly went out of his way to denigrate and belittle another human being simply because of the colour of his skin? It will almost certainly be the case that the majority of people championing his potential arrival have little to no understanding of what it means to face such discrimination or what it is to be a part of an oppressed minority and again, will sit there wondering why black people are ‘being sensitive’.
There is a feeling that the conclusion of the Zimmerman trial has basically inferred that the life of a black person is somehow less valuable. When people attempt to excuse or ignore what Suarez said to Evra, they uphold this view. The inference here is that the voice of blacks in football doesn’t need to be heard. The fact that he offended an entire race means nothing as long as he plays football well.
As far as I can remember, Arsenal football club has always prided itself on diversity, both of its fan base and playing staff. Signing Suarez flies right in the face of that and makes a mockery of the campaigns and various measures being to try and rid the game of racism.
Even without the Evra incident, there are many reasons not to welcome such an individual at our club. Suarez is also a habitual diver, once tried to break Sylvain Distin’s leg and expresses no regret for his many transgressions. There seems to be this belief that he will somehow ‘change his ways’ if he joins us. But let us not forget that he also currently finds himself in the middle of another lengthy ban after biting an opponent in the last competitive club match he played – an offence it wasn’t even the first time he was found guilty of.
Yes, Arsenal has had problem players in the past. Adams and Merson are two that are cited but quite frankly, addiction problems are incomparable to any of the above. Patrick Vieira once spat at a player. Disgusting and indefensible but certainly does not carry the same weight culturally, socially and historically as racism. Not even 1%.
What about when he reoffends? When he inevitably gets booked for diving, will you continue to take the moral high ground when Gareth Bale does the same? If he racially abuses somebody on his debut, could we really say we weren’t forewarned? Or will you wear a ridiculous t-shirt supporting him?
Beyond that, this is a player who has openly stated he wants to play for Real Madrid. When Perez comes calling in 12 months, there’s no evidence to suggest he would show even an ounce of loyalty to us once a bigger, better club come calling. This is a man who is prepared to walk out on Liverpool after everything they did to support him through his many, many troubles. He’d do the same to us in a heartbeat.
When discussing this with a Liverpool supporting friend of mine, he made the poignant remark that while he might miss the player, he wouldn’t miss having to defend a man that has gone some way to tarnishing the name of his club. If he does sign, whatever he does henceforth, he does as an Arsenal player, in an Arsenal shirt and in the name of Arsenal football club. By proxy, fans are ‘supposed’ to support him – even if he decides to kick an opponent “because he is black”. As somebody who takes pride in his race, I’m not sure how I’d be prepared to countenance that.
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