The Dog-Whistling Of The Tabloids Becomes Audible
It should seem astonishing, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, that any of this should even need to be written, but we can hold the editorial teams of pond life newspapers squarely responsible for being here in the first place. This morning, yet again, The Sun chose to devote its front page to its ongoing hate campaign against Raheem Sterling. This morning, the subject of their ire is ostensibly a tattoo etched onto Sterling’s leg. The player himself has already noted through his Instagram page that there is a specific reason for this tattoo – not that he should need to justify it, of course – but there is little to nothing that the player can do to assuage the attack dogs of the far right media in this country. We all know this, already.
The demonising of this young player really began in earnest a couple of years ago, with his transfer from Liverpool to Manchester City and with the England national team’s underwhelming performances at the 2016 European Championships. To even mention this, however, feels like it’s missing the point. The targeted abuse of this player through more than newspaper – the Mail and the Daily Star are just as guilty as The Sun in this respect, it’s just that this morning’s verminous headline comes from this verminous organ – has long since ceased to be about anything to do with football. There has been no player in recent times that has been as gratuitously attacked as Sterling, and the feeling that this has been going on because of the colour of his skin has never been explicitly denied by any of those carrying it out, so we’re left with little alternative but to call them out for what we believe them to be.
This is now starting to stretch beyond the gutters that these rags inhabit, as well. This morning, Sky News have asked whether Sterling “should be forced to cover his tattoo”, whilst dismal pastel colours and honking noises for old people television projectile vomit Good Morning Britain, presumably inspired by their bigot-in-chief Piers Morgan claimed in a tweet that there were “calls for Raheem Sterling to step down” without mentioning from whence these calls emanated and asked their Twitter audience “which side are you on?”. It’s difficult to believe that these inflammatory tweets are anything but an opportunity to boost their #engagement numbers by skating so close to the thin ice of inciting racial hatred that they might just lose their footing and fall into some freezing cold water. We can but hope.
But we need to stop getting drawn into the minutiae of these constant attacks on Sterling. This isn’t about the tattoo. It isn’t about the football. It wasn’t about him having breakfast. It wasn’t about him doing some shopping in a pound shop. It wasn’t about him not having washed his car. It wasn’t about him having a fancy sink installed in a bathroom. It wasn’t about him going to a nightclub. It wasn’t about him getting something to eat from Greggs, or flying with a budget airline, or hiring a private jet. It wasn’t about him proposing to his girlfriend. This is about something altogether more insidious. The sound of dog-whistling is in the air yet again.
Over the last two years, all concerned with these smears will have been aware of the growing chorus of voices complaining about the fundamental racism (and yes, classism – Sterling has managed the trifecta of being black, working class and successful) of all of this, and they have carried on regardless. In the absence of any denials regarding allegations that the colour of his skin is one of the primary motivations behind their campaigns of hate, we can only assume that none of those listed above care enough about a sizeable – and growing – proportion of the public seeing the story through this particular prism to stop doing it.
We don’t believe that this is a deliberate attempt to upset England’s preparations for the World Cup finals. If it was, the Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Star would all be able to pick on other, whiter players than Sterling as well. None of this means that it won’t have any effect, though. Let’s be absolutely clear on this: there will be no bad players at the World Cup finals. Bad footballers do not get paid thousands of pounds per week to play football. Every single player appearing in Russia this summer is a superlative athlete, skilled at what they are paid to do to an extent to which the rest of us could only dream. What there will also be in Russia this summer, though, will be a tinderbox of pressure, and if the psychological aspect of the does matter (spolier alert: it does), then adding to the pressure is only likely to have a detrimental effect on the atmosphere surrounding the England camp this summer.
Of course, even if coordinated racist attacks on one the team’s best players could somehow guide England to the World Cup (spoiler alert: they can’t – any success that the England team will come about, as it always has, in spite of the tabloid press rather than because of it), that wouldn’t justify them in any way whatsoever. But it is worth remembering that these rags are enemies to all of us. They will occasionally throw out the “greatest supporters” line because they presume that, in their infantile world, blind, dumb patriotism is a part of the language to be used. But their ethical compasses are so broken that their “support” means nothing apart from being a means to the ends of those that own them, and in the current climate practically open racism is useful to them.
There have been and continue to be boycotts against these newspapers, but they don’t seem to have made much of a difference in terms of tempering their behaviour, so what else is there to be done? Perhaps it’s time for the governing bodies of the game to step off the fence and lead by example, for once. Perhaps banning the Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Star from press boxes during the World Cup – or, since these fall under the jurisdiction of FIFA and may not be possible, then from any contact whatsoever with the England team – would go some way towards making statement that this sort of behaviour is not acceptable to us any more. This wouldn’t be – as they would doubtlessly spin it – “censorship” because they wouldn’t be prevented from writing about it. They’d be welcome to write about the tournament from what they can see of it on the television. But why should anybody within the FA do anything whatsoever to accommodate newspapers who have been engaged in such a horrible campaign against a player in their team for such a long time?
It’s not difficult to see where people get a distrust towards the media from, while this sort of story exists. The best that we can say about it all is that it is becoming increasingly clear that there has been no abatement in the growth of the media that will have controversial opinions for money. Good Morning Britain, Sky News and plenty of others will doubtlessly grab some eyeballs from turning a manufactured “controversy” into a news story. The Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Star – and we’re just about certain that there will be others as well – will continue to peddle their racism veiled as sensationalism and moral outrage because they still have a large enough pool of racists who will hear their whistle loud and clear.
In other, more optimistic times, we might have believed this to be the death rattle of a section of the media that has outlived its usefulness, outflanked by the fact that twenty-four hour news cycles have rendered the daily production of sheets of paper with bile imprinted upon them redundant. In 2018, however, it seldom feels as though there is anything worth getting optimistic over at all. The tabloid press continues to squat in the gutter, too giant a collection of turds to fall easily into the sewer in which they belong, infecting the rest of us as they sit there with their decaying, rotting stench.