Kevin-Prince Boateng's anti-racism message: Too many players scared to stand
Boateng calls for footballers to stand up against racism: "People are scared of getting sanctioned...if we really want to change something, we have to take big measures"
By Paul Gilmour and Husmukh Kerai
Last Updated: 04/06/20 9:12am
Kevin-Prince Boateng has launched a powerful anti-racism message urging footballers to take a stand, believing too many are afraid.
The former Tottenham player walked off in protest after suffering racist abuse during a friendly match for AC Milan in Italy in 2013 and has since been a vocal anti-racism campaigner in sport.
Boateng has renewed his pledge to front the fight against racism after George Floyd, a 46-year-old black American, died after a white policeman knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25, reigniting the explosive issue of police brutality against African Americans.
It sparked nationwide protests in the US and across the world including Britain, Germany, New Zealand, France and Denmark.
In a wide-ranging exclusive interview with Sky Sports News following the protests, Boateng, who has been linked with a move to MLS, says:
- Society must be proactive not reactive
- Some players are scared to speak out
- Racism needs to be taught in schools
- Suggests a 'George Floyd day' when players do not play
- Urges more players to walk off if abused
How have you coped with the events of the last few days?
It is a difficult situation. Other than being sad, I am angry. It just hurts always coming back to the same feeling. It's very difficult for me right now.
How does football handle this issue?
I saw Liverpool kneeling and that is a good start to show that they are with us. In general what is football doing? Not a lot. An advert on television or a banner when the teams walk onto the pitch [is not enough]. It's already late but it's never too late, we just have to wake up.
How did you feel when you walked off during a match in 2013?
When I was young I always tried to ignore racism and swallow it. When I talk to people now [who knew me then], they say 'back in the day you never felt like this, you cried, went home and never said anything'. I tell them [that is] because I was a coward. I wasn't strong enough and did not believe in what I wanted to do.
I'm not a coward anymore. That was the moment when I was fed up, it was enough. I felt sad, angry, I hated the world. I wanted to show the world I'm not going to let them do that to me anymore. After what I have been through, what I have sacrificed. You won't judge me because of the colour of my skin.
What kind of things have been shouted at you by football fans?
Monkey [gestures], for every goal you score you get a banana. We'll put you in a box and send you back to your country. The 'n word' has been used a lot of times. [They throw water and say] maybe we can wash off the dirt.
'We need to teach racism in schools'
That kind of stuff just to hurt you. They are racist, of course, but it [comes from] ignorance, they do not understand. We have to try to break it down to them as simply as possible - that is our work.
We have to educate the kids, that is the biggest issue. Kids are growing up through this and not being educated by their parents or in school.
There is maths, English and history [being taught] in schools, why is there no racism subject? Make the kids understand we are all the same. That's the next generation, maybe one day everyone will understand.
What kind of racism do you suffer in everyday life?
Racism in Europe is more hidden, people are hiding and not showing it show much. When they are in bigger groups they feel more comfortable to shout.
People change sides when I'm walking on the street, look at me funny when I'm in my car. Police stop me for no reason, it happens so many times maybe because I'm a black guy with tattoos and a nice car they think I am a criminal.
I've worked my all my life to be a footballer but you just judge me for what I look like? It was worse when I was growing up.
Is society doing enough?
Of course not. We have to talk, we have to be louder. We have to use [social media], today it is the biggest platform. People might say I only have 100 followers, well maybe you can influence 50 of them. Even showing you as a white person are with us, that gives us so much power. We believe you are with us so we can go forward with a bigger chest.
No one is doing enough. #BlackOutTuesday is not enough, it's too easy. Because people are scared to stand for something, to say something because of sponsors or large followings. A black picture is way too easy.
It's a beautiful message but I'm mad because people have it so easy. If you ever point a finger at them they'll say 'but I posted that picture'. [The picture alone] does not mean anything to me.
Are players actually afraid of losing sponsorship and followers by speaking out?
I can understand because it is an uncomfortable position. Many people think if I share, repost or say something wrong I will lose my sponsorship. They have to become comfortable. This is something bigger than a sponsor or anything like that. In the moment if you say the wrong words, but you mean the right thing, you will never do wrong when you try to help the human race.
How important is it to be proactive rather than reactive?
This is what I always say since 2013 when it happened to me. We only do things when there is a catastrophe, when something bad happens. I've been working since that day, every chance I get, every platform I have I try to say it's still there. I don't want George Floyd to be forgotten after a week.
In Australia the forests burnt down, we were all sad, of course I'm going to share that. Can you see the impact that has? How many people were behind it, posting, giving interviews, donating. It was a big wave, we were proud, you could see humanity sticking together for the love of earth.
Love black people the same way. If I compare them, where is the big wave? I'm waiting for the people with the big followers. These are the ones that can make real change, I try but by just talking you can give us strength to go forward.
Are you happy with FIFA's 'common sense' directive over player protests?
Of course. If it is an important message that can help change people's mind they should not be scared.
Politics and religion is a part of us. We are all divided, everyone has a different religions and thinks differently so I can understand [trying to stop those messages] because we have big platforms and someone might have a message to just 'their people'.
If you bring out a message like [Jadon] Sancho did, it is totally different, we should not talk about this being on the same level. This is not the same, he did something for the human race, it is beyond politics and religion.
View this post on Instagram
Solid performance from the team!! Delighted to get my first career hat trick, a bittersweet moment personally as there are more important things going on in the world today that we must address and help make a change. We shouldn't fear speaking out for what's right, we have to come together as one & fight for justice. We are stronger together! ❤️ #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd 🙏🏼
Are the current level of fines and sanctions by football authorities enough to deter racist behaviour?
For me it is a joke. At the beginning I thought it could work but people feel too comfortable, they can sit there and shout the n-word at us. The policeman felt comfortable kneeling on [Floyd's] neck. That's the problem, they feel comfortable because there are no consequences.
What is the consequence? You cannot go to the stadium no more, fine no problem. A fine of $35,000 [for a club]? What is that? That's why people are comfortable.4
'I want to a day on which no black player goes to work'
Do one thing, take every black person out of sports and every black actor out of the movies and how is it going to be? Boring. I want to get a day that no black player goes to work, maybe on George Floyd's birthday. Not because we don't want to work or disrespect our club but to honour our black community.
Could that be something all right-thinking people get involved in?
Of course. Imagine what a message it would be if white people stick with us, if they said 'I won't go to practice' or 'I won't go to work' or 'I won't play'. Imagine it's on a Saturday, the day of a game, that would be a big message.
I'm trying to think of answers - putting cameras and speakers inside the stadium so you can point out who is that person. I'm trying to do something because nothing is happening. There's always just something tragic happening - and then it's too late.
'I will be your Muhammad Ali'
[Completing a potential move to the US to play in MLS] wouldn't change a thing. I would be the same person. I would fight the same, because I'm numb now. It hurts me but it doesn't touch me now, I'm strong enough to deal with it.
Maybe that would be the perfect thing for me to play there right now - to make a statement to give something back to show the people that I'm on the frontline, that I will be your front guy - I will be your Muhammad Ali. He always said 'I will be there, I'm more than a boxer'. I want to be more than a boxer. There's a hundred players better than me, faster than me, I will fight for something bigger.
Even if I change two minds, three, one hundred - that's in my power. America, Germany, Italy, France, England - everywhere there is racism so it doesn't matter where I play. I will always play for the right thing.
Would you like to see more players walk off?
It was a powerful image and still is now. But I think even now people are scared they are going to get sanctioned.
There's always a little chain - we have to start to believe in what we are doing. People say it was a friendly game, but I didn't care in that moment because it was something bigger inside of me. It wasn't about the game. Even if it was a Champions League game I would have walked off.
It's not a discussion, it's just if we're strong enough, if we really want to change something, we have to take big measures.