Ramage's 'Young Black Lads' Mindset Reflects Football's Inaction on Racism
It’s worth reading the comments made by local BBC pundit – now former BBC pundit – Craig Ramage in the wake of Derby’s 1-1 draw with Huddersfield on Saturday. “When I look at certain players,” Ramage judged, “their body language, their stance, the way they act, you just feel, hold on a minute, he needs pulling down a peg or two. So I’d probably say that about all the young black lads … that, you know, it’s about, when you are struggling for form, you are going through a sticky patch, it’s about going back to basics, working hard, and doing the right things.”
Well there you go. Ramage has now been relieved of his duties by the BBC, though it was notably left to a 22-year-old Derby player to publicly challenge the comments. On Sunday, defender Max Lowe spoke out on Instagram “on behalf of black footballers at Derby Country … Racial ignorance, stereotyping and intolerance negatively affects the image of impressionable young footballers and creates an unnecessary divide in society. I am also disappointed that a public service broadcaster did not step in to ask the analyst to explain his reasoning or to distance themselves from these archaic thoughts.” Quite. And we’ll come shortly to the depressing regularity with which pushback against racism ends up having to be player-led.
For now, Ramage has issued a statement explaining that this is not who he is, and his views don’t reflect his views. Or something. However, it’s hard not to suspect they reflect the views of many pundits, supporters, and some of the newspapers and media outlets, subconsciously or otherwise.
“Certain players”, to use Ramage’s euphemism, will never be able to do right for doing wrong, and almost all players have to live with the reality that entirely normal activities will be parsed as somehow detrimental to their game. The most anodyne aspects of the outside life of footballers are ruthlessly policed. Have they been on social media in a manner entirely in keeping with the fact that their side just lost 2-1? Have they been pictured in an expensive car within 48 hours of their side having lost 2-1? Have they got the wrong sort of home, the wrong sort of tattoo, the wrong sort of gait? Are they – whenever they so much as leave the house – showing either extreme contrition or extreme gratitude, the only two acceptable off-pitch emotions? If not, some genius analyst or other will soon be making a distinctly moral judgment about “focus”.
Without wishing to slaughter a sacred cow, then, does any of this really matter? Does it really have any effect on performance, or simply on the feelings of some supporters or commentators? When asked why it matters quite so much as they seem to think it does, pundits given to falling back on this type of critique only ever seem to offer vast woollinesses. It is “indicative of a mindset”, it “sends a message”, it “says his head’s somewhere else”. Does it? It’s certainly convenient to think so. But I often feel the mindset it is all rather more indicative of is that of the pundit in question.
In fact, Ramage’s comments are useful insofar as they show how absolutely impossible it sometimes is to be young, acceptable and black. His primary issues with the young black players are ludicrous things – things like their stance, their body language.
And yet it continues to fall to players like them to lead the charge against their own treatment. A fortnight after a 50%rise in football-related racist incidents over the past year was revealed, Raheem Sterling has mooted a players’ taskforce to combat a problem most now acknowledge is rising. It is said he will consult with the Premier League and Uefa – but is that the right way round?
When Kobe Bryant died, the reflection of the Uefa president was striking. “I did not know Bryant personally,” said Aleksander Ceferin, “but I was always struck by the way he never shied from taking a firm stance against racism. It made him a true role model for other high-profile sports stars.” What about for high-profile sports bodies? It doesn’t take several years of forensic accountants, lawyers, former Belgian prime ministers, hackers and whistleblowers to uncover when some racism is happening in a location Uefa is technically supposed to govern. Quite often, you can do it off your telly.
Despite this, calling it out in a way that produces meaningful results seems to have been officially designated a job for the players, who must do it at the same time as having to try to win a football match. I guess if you want something done, ask a busy person. Even so, many find this allocation of duties unsatisfactory, as suggested by Bayern Munich and Austria defender David Alaba in a Sunday Times interview last weekend. Of the triggering of Uefa’s three-step protocol during England’s game against Bulgaria in Sofia last October, Alaba said: “It’s very sad that the players have to say something because everybody sees it and everybody hears it so why should the players do something? Because it’s not always for the player. They have to do their job. They’re playing a game … We have to find a solution that gets through that.”
Unfortunately, at this stage in the governing body’s glacial journey towards getting a clue about racism, it still can’t be left to Uefa, who don’t seem to truly want to win on this front at all. Leaving it to the players is – how to put this? – “indicative of a mindset”. In fact, mind-blowing as it might be to Ramage and those who secretly agree with him, perhaps players do occasionally have their heads elsewhere. Which is to say, they’re distracted by the continuous burden of having deal with racism because others are failing to.
The Guardian Sport