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Mike Maignan, Football, and Racism

By Zayd Ibn Isah “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People…

By Zayd Ibn Isah

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart.” – Nelson Mandela

It was a Saturday night to forget for AC Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan—not because he committed a terrible blunder that led to his side losing rather dramatically to Udinese in Serie A, but because the 28-year-old French shotstopper was subjected to racial abuse by the home fans. The monkey chants from Udinese fans persisted even when he drew the attention of the match officials to it. Frustrated and incensed, he walked out of the pitch, with his teammates following him in solidarity. However, he later returned to the pitch, and the match resumed after a ten-minute break.

In a DAZN interview post-game, Maignan voiced his anguish, stating, “They made monkey noises, and it’s not the first time it’s happened to me.”

I can only imagine how the young man felt at that moment. He simply wanted to play and earn a living through the beautiful game of football, like his other teammates, only to be subjected to racial slurs to the point of losing his mind.

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Maignan is not the first black player to take a stand against racist abuse on the pitch. Other football players, including Marega, Mouctar Diakhaby, and Balotelli, have faced similar situations. Additionally, in 2020, a Champions League match between PSG and Basaksehir was suspended. PSG and Basaksehir players walked off the pitch in protest after the fourth official allegedly used racist language while sending off Pierre Achille Webo, the club’s assistant manager.

These incidents involving Maignan, as well as other players, often serve to highlight the persistent issue of racism in football. And despite promises by football governing bodies to address this complex problem, the unfortunate reality is that, in many cases, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The collective actions of players taking a stand against racism on the pitch emphasize the ongoing need for meaningful and effective measures to combat discrimination in the sport.

Racism in football is not a recent phenomenon; its roots extend as far back as the inception of the sport. In the 1930s-1940s, black players faced racial abuse globally, with Arthur Wharton, the first black professional footballer, experiencing discrimination. The 1970s saw Viv Anderson become the first black player to represent England, yet racial abuse persisted both on and off the pitch.

The 1980s witnessed egregious incidents, including banana-throwing and monkey chants directed at black players, with the issue persisting across various European leagues.

In the 1990s, high-profile cases like John Barnes experiencing racial abuse during England matches prompted UEFA and FIFA to introduce anti-racism initiatives, although the problem endured.

Throughout the 2000s, incidents persisted, leading players like Thierry Henry and Didier Drogba to speak out against racism. UEFA and FIFA intensified efforts to combat discrimination.

The 2010s continued to witness instances of racism, prompting players and organizations to advocate for stricter penalties. Notable incidents included racial abuse on social media. Fast forward to 2024, and black players still have to grapple with issues of racism on the field.

I share the sorrow for Mike Maignan and fellow footballers who have had to face racial abuse. No one should ever endure a sense of diminished self-worth due to the color of their skin. As the proverb says, “A tree is known by its fruit.” Similarly, individuals should be judged by their actions, not by discriminatory notions. Racism is like a dark cloud blocking the sunlight; it obscures the beauty of unity and equality. Let us strive for a world where diversity is celebrated, and the human spirit shines brightly.

Football governing bodies must go beyond symbolic gestures. After all, actions speak louder than words. As such, the implementations of tougher sanctions like point deductions and outright relegation could serve as a more effective deterrent. Football clubs whose fans racially abuse opponents should be held vicariously liable for such despicable behaviour. Without such measures, racist abusers may keep on tarnishing the beauty of this beloved game.

Amidst our condemnation of racial injustice faced by black players abroad, it’s crucial to address the internal discrimination within our black community. Sadly, we often devalue our own selves, bleaching our skin and associating negative connotations with black and brown pigmentation. As the saying goes, “Charity begins at home.” If we don’t appreciate our beauty, how can we expect others to respect us? In our secondary school days, we seldom wrote with black ink, as if it were a taboo. There’s a pressing need to change the mindset of our people, to sensitize the ignorant by conveying the message that black is genuinely beautiful and being black does not equate to inferiority. It’s high time we begin to celebrate our shared heritage and embrace the beauty of our black identity, if only for the sake of the little ones, and future generations yet to come.

In closing, Nelson Mandela’s wisdom echoes through time, reminding us that the path to combating racism and embracing love is a journey that starts within the human heart. As we reflect on the disheartening incidents endured by players like Mike Maignan, we are reminded that the beauty of unity and equality will prevail only when we teach love and acceptance instead of fostering hate and discrimination. May the collective efforts of those fighting against racism in football lead us to a future where every player can pursue their passion without fear of prejudice, and where the game truly shines as a symbol of inclusivity and respect.

Zayd Ibn Isah can be reached at [email protected]

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