Finally, football gives racism the treatment it deserves

No one is a racist anymore.

This politician, that footballer, this celebrity, they didn’t mean that! They have plenty of (insert ethnicity here) friends. To put it in terms any football fan will be familiar with: "they’re not that kind of player."

Today, it is virtually impossible to be a racist unless you’re 100% dedicated to an ideology that is committed to the supremacy of one ethnicity over another. So unless you’re a member of the KKK, an Aryan prison gang, or the English Defense League, congratulations. You’re not a racist.

But here’s the thing, racism isn’t about a consistent mindset. It isn’t about dedicating your life to hate. What it is about is dehumanizing another human being. It is about making them less than a person. That, according to an independent commission, is what Luis Suarez did to Patrice Evra during Liverpool’s match against Manchester United earlier this year.

Today, the FA handed down an exceptionally harsh sentence on Suraez, banning him from 8 games. Liverpool has protested this in a press release that reads like a parody written by Manchester United fans. "How could Luis be racist? He’s of mixed race! He has black friends!" This is, of course, nonsense. It doesn’t matter if this is part of a pattern or an isolated incident. The only thing that matters is what Luis Suarez said to Patrice Evra on the field during that game. If – IF Suarez is found guilty upon appeal, he deserves this penalty 100%.

I don’t care if this is level of punishment is unprecedented. I don't care if he's never done this before and will never do it again. I am tired of excuses for this kind of thing. If Suarez is guilty, then this is reprehensible behavior on one of the highest stage of this sport and deserves to be treated as such. If it is found that he made an insult on the basis of race, then the FA has a responsibility to punish him as harshly as possible and demonstrate in no uncertain terms that they will not tolerate this. And that goes for John Terry as well. This must be unacceptable in world football.

I fully understand that there’s plenty of salty banter going back and forth on pitches around the world. And that’s fine. I enjoy watching opponents winding up Joey Barton as much as the next fan. But the second you start dehumanizing another player because of his color or creed, you go over a line.

I’m certain that in the next few weeks we’ll hear much gnashing of teeth about bringing political correctness into the game . This is all nonsense. Politics aren’t separate from sports. Politics are as tightly woven into the fabric of sports as grass and cleats. For both good and for ill, sports can be used for the advancement of all manner of causes and ideas. However, at their best, sports are just as capable of uplifting us and changing lives as any politician, movement, or march.

In 1909, Walter Tull became the first black association football player in England when he took the field for Tottenham Hotspur. Not long after, the team had to sell him because of racial abuse. Since then players like Tull have shown saturday after saturday on the pitch that they were ordinary players, who you could love and hate like everyone else. It can’t be understated how many hearts were won and minds were changed by watching players like Tull compete. Perhaps there is no better evidence than the fact that almost a hundred years after Tull played for us, players like Ledley King, Theo Walcott, Daniel Sturridge, and Jermaine Defoe regularly represent England internationally and barely anyone notices their race.

Football is really the only sport that can truly lay claim to the title of the global game, and as such, it has a particular responsibility to combat this kind of ugliness. Too often the sport has provided a forum for societies around the world to display the worst kinds of racism and hate. Yet, at the same time nothing unites people across the world like football. People from Merseyside to Shanghai to Uganda to New York live and die with Liverpool FC. More than half the planet watches the World Cup final. There are few things that unite such diverse groups of people as football.

That is why the people in charge of the sport have a responsibility to encourage the best in us, not the worst. The examples of countless players as well as initiatives like Kick it Out have made a lot of progress in removing racism from the sport, but even with all the progress that has been made, in places like Russia and even Spain, national FAs will still sometimes turn a blind eye to racism from fans and players alike.

If Suarez is guilty, I don’t know if this makes him a bigot and frankly I don’t care. I am sick of excusing this kind of behavior as long as it’s not draped in a white sheet or accompanied by a Nazi salute. Wagging our fingers and making excuses for racially abusing another player won’t stop this from happening again. Who knows, maybe coming down on him like a ton of bricks won’t either, but what this punishment does do is send a clear, unmistakable message: racism is unacceptable in English Football. And at least then this mess will give us something we can feel good about.

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