Sheffield Wednesday's Moses Odubajo on what clubs should do to fight racism, and the effect of social media abuse
English football stepped up its efforts to raise the profile of racism in society after the murder of George Floyd this summer, with all Premier League players taking a knee before games, a gesture replicated in many Football League matches.
However there are still depressing reminders that more needs to be done.
When Leeds United’s Ezgjan Alioski and Arsenal’s Nicolas Pepe were abused on social media for their involvement in the red card in Sunday’s televised 0-0 draw – Pepe headbutted the North Macedonian – some of the invective was racist, causing both clubs to refer the matter to the police.
As an intelligent and eloquent black player who has spoken in the past about the depression caused by a dislocated kneecap playing for Hull City in 2016, Sheffield Wednesday’s Odubajo is well placed to discuss the negative effect such abuse can have.
“Most players, if they didn’t receive ridiculous amounts of abuse they’d probably message back,” he said of why some of his team-mates are reluctant to engage on social media. “Fans don’t realise we’re just like them, we’re normal people.
“You might say we get paid a lot of money and it’s a privilege but no player goes out on the pitch and wants to play badly, no player wants to give the ball away.
“The minute you step over that white line no one cares about what you’re going through, it’s all about playing well for the team but there has to be a line between constructive criticism, supporting your own team, and pure abuse and negativity which isn’t going to help any player in any club succeed.
“I felt like I just needed to stand up and let the fans understand I’m trying. I’ve been through a lot but just stick with me and a lot of them have done and I’m grateful for that. My performances have changed in the last couple of months and they’re only going to keep getting better and better.
“A lot of players play their best football when they feel relaxed and they’re not over-thinking.
“A lot of people say they don’t see a lot of it (social media criticism) but you do see it.
“The minute he starts questioning if he’s good enough he’s going to start doubting himself and dwelling on the ball and the mistakes that happened, and it puts you off your own game. You start being a nervous player and a nervous player doesn’t get you anywhere.
“Sometimes you give it your all and it doesn’t happen and that’s life, you have to move on. But one thing you have to understand is I’d never go onto the pitch not wanting to give it my all for this club. That’s not me, that’s not any player, I should hope anyway.”
Odubajo feels the anti-racism gestures of 2020 have been important but stresses there is more to do. A black or ethnic minority appointment as the next Football Association chairman, which some have called for, would help but is not essential, he believes.
“I feel a lot of people are more understanding of the issue,” he said. “Because it’s not happening to them or they’ve not experienced it they’ve turned a blind eye to it. Now, because it’s so in your face and it’s been put on shows and documentaries on TV, it just makes people aware of issues like that happening in the world we’re all living in. Sometimes when you see tragic news on the TV it doesn’t seem like it’s happening in the same world I’m in.
“Whoever’s qualified enough should take the (FA) job but I feel like it would help a little bit if a BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) person was recruited. You don’t see many BAME people high up in job roles.
“As a player seeing a BAME player up there will obviously give you a bit more confidence in the board but if not I feel we can still push the awareness to a bigger space than most other people in general life. Look at the likes of Marcus Rashford.”
Odubajo also wants clubs to keep up the momentum.
“The black players around clubs will try to push the message as far as they can but I feel like now it’s time for clubs as a whole to push the message towards fans because players can only push it to a certain extent,” he argued. “Once things kind of die down it’s as if everyone’s almost forgotten about the issue.
“The next step could be for the managers of clubs’ social media every now and again to put out a small reminder to the people who’ve forgotten and thought it was a trend that’s gone away to say racism’s still happening in the world on a daily basis in and amongst the game. Maybe a little post about equality or short video clips from some of the BAME players will remind us and kick us in a better direction, or keep it going in the same direction.”
Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today. Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you'll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers. Click HERE to subscribe.