It seems like every couple of weeks the spectre of racism has managed to rear it's ugly head in the world of football. Last season was marred by the Luis Suarez and John Terry controversies. This season, we have seen fans of Lazio racially abuse Tottenham Hotspur players and then there were last weeks events in Serbia following an England U-21 match.
Last year's incidents precipitated "Handshake gate". There was refused hand shakes between Suarez and Patrice Evra, Anton Ferdinand and John Terry/Ashley Cole and then there was way too much media coverage of said handshakes. You couldn't open up a website or a newspaper without seeing analysis of whether handshakes were important or if the two parties involved in these disputes should be kissing and making up.
As SB Nation contributor Andi Thomas pointed out way back in February, it's not the handshakes that are the problem it's their requirement.
By making something that should be both individual and optional into something generic and compulsory, the FA and the PL have performed the miraculous feat of shafting the thing in both directions: it's completely meaningless most of the time, except on the rare occasions when it's cosmically overblown. If you make somebody do something, then it means nothing. And if you make somebody do something, and they don't, then it means too much.
I had no delusions that racism would suddenly stop being a thing in football, but I had, at the very least, hoped we would stop worry about these sorts of required gestures. And then, this weekend we had "T-shirt Gate". In yet another effort to show how hip and "with it" they are, the FA and the Kick It Out campaign required players in the football league to wear T-shirts in order to raise awareness for the campaign. Predictable, this caused some controversy.
Anton and Rio Ferdinand, two players who have been at the center of the recent racism controversy, along with Reading striker Jason Roberts refused to wear the campaign's t-shirts in an effort to say that the campaign wasn't doing enough to combat racism in football. Because of their refusal, Kick It Out chief Lord Herman Ouseley felt the need to say that he saw the players' refusal as an attack on his campaign. Ouseley said:
"The focus has been on those who have not worn the T-shirts when hundreds - thousands - of players have been wearing them. It comes across as an attack on Kick It Out, and that is unacceptable to me."
via ESPN FC
This, of course, begs the question: why should we care about all those other guys that actually wore the shirt? Let's not pretend that it takes a lot of conviction to wear a t-shirt. I own an Ohio State t-shirt, but I don't particularly care about them. Does a player wearing an anti-racism shirt make him anti-racism? Is it really that much of a statement that players and fans will care about? Will the sight of Joe Allen in a Kick It Out t-shirt suddenly make your average Koppite discard any sort of racist notions he may have? The answer to all those questions is no.
I got really tired of t-shirts in football last season. Sure, there was Mario Balotelli's "Why Always Me?" shirt. That was funny. However, there was also Liverpool's t-shirts supporting Luis Suarez, which were stupid in so many ways I don't even have the time to list them. Now, T-shirts are back in the spotlight. Why? Because the powers that be in football seem to believe that by making everyone dress alike they can make everyone think alike.
It's these sorts of token gestures that ought to be kicked out of football. Wearing t-shirt and shaking hands doesn't help anyone. It's not changing the world we live in and it's certainly not creating a more harmonious environment, either on the pitch or in the stands. So, just stop. Quit making empty gestures just to show that you're trying to do something and start actually doing something. These sorts of things obviously aren't working (and if you thought they would work you're clearly a bit daft) and it's time to find a new way to address the problem of racism in football.
As a result of the Kick It Out campaign's "efforts", Rio Ferdinand and other prominent black players are reportedly planning on creating a break-away faction of the players union. This new organization, The Federation of Black Players, is being created to tackle all forms of discrimination. I'm not sure how effective a new organization will be at adressing racism in football, but I do know one thing. The Federation of Black Players won't be making any t-shirts anytime soon.