Instead, the Sterling affair has been blown up into a political football to be used in the favourite game of British snobs: giving all common football fans a kicking as racist thugs, sticking the boot into the tabloid press for allegedly stoking prejudice and violence, and demanding stricter policing of both. Behind all that lurks the fashionable belief that working-class Brexit supporters are a bigoted mob.
Cometh the hour, cometh the Spiked article about the snobbish Elites looking down upon the People with fear and contempt. Spiked, the stopped clock of online magazines, has found its twice-daily occasion to be correct. (It’s even more touching that Hume, a torch-carrying Trotskyist, should finally have the chance to be right about something for a change.) For those blissfully unaware, during the Chelsea/Manchester City match a couple weeks ago, the television cameras caught several Chelsea fans shouting abuse at City winger Raheem Sterling as he went behind the goal to retrieve the ball for a corner kick. Thousands of amateur lip-readers quickly formed a consensus that one fan in particular had called Sterling a “fucking black cunt.” (American readers may or may not be aware that the dreaded c-word doesn’t carry the same offensive gendered connotations among our British friends; the outrage was over the modifier.)
This sparked a great National Conversation about the specter of racism in football. The Daily Mail, which never saw a barrel-bottom it wouldn’t lick for clicks, helpfully published the scoundrel’s name, age, and address, with a bonus picture of his house, no doubt to facilitate healing conversations between him and well-wishers in the community, and later gleefully snickered at his “having a moan” over losing both his job and lifelong season tickets. The Guardian, which responds to a hint of social injustice the way a flaccid male member responds to a dose of Viagra, temporarily eased its attempts to proselytize for women’s football in order to testify to the omnipresent menace of racism. Nike, fresh from sponsoring Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling rebellion, quickly bolstered its own woke credibility by producing an ad with Sterling. The media spotlight attracted plenty of other people looking to insert themselves into the story somehow. Inevitably, we were reminded that racism is always and forever everywhere, even, or especially, when it doesn’t seem to be anywhere.
Lost in all the furor and soul-searching was the villain’s insistence that he had called Sterling a cunt of the Manc variety, not the black one. (I assume residents of Manchester don’t yet qualify as a protected species under hate-crime laws.) There seems to be a question-begging circularity to the whole spectacle — how do we know he didn’t, in fact, say “Manc” instead of “black”? The shape of one’s mouth appears plausibly similar in both instances, and unless Britain’s CCTV surveillance has gotten even more quasi-totalitarian in recent years, I’m pretty sure we don’t have conclusive video analysis of how, precisely, the blackguard’s tongue was pressed to his teeth in order to form his consonants. The answer seems to be, well, wouldn’t you expect a racist to feign innocence like that? A cynic might suspect that we’ve invested too much in the story to have it all fizzle out over something as prosaic as the facts, so even if it’s not literally true in this instance, it’s generally true that there are racists out there who would say such things, so we should testify to that higher truth anyway. Besides, who would say that there’s anything wrong with a mass revival denouncing racism? I think you know who.
All in all, there’s no redeeming moral to the story. It’s just a sordid spectacle that makes a misanthrope out of the observer. But yes, when the man’s right, the man’s right. This was largely a solidarity-building exercise for a familiar type of pious liberal for whom the threat of racism would have to be invented if it couldn’t be found already existing. Like war games on the cultural level, it’s an opportunity to rehearse maneuvers and test weaponry. But if there’s one thing British sports journalists love more than sermonizing, it’s reveling in drama surrounding Jose Mourinho, and a merciful God delivered just that opportunity this week by having Mourinho finally get fired as Manchester United manager, thus sparing us from further ritual penance.