Jermain Defoe Q&A: Enough is enough and racist attitudes need to change

"This is 2020, it's not the 1960s. These things should not be happening now, people need to be educated and the punishments need to be drastic"

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Jermain Defoe says racist attitudes need to change

Jermain Defoe says the events surrounding George Floyd's death in the United States have had a big impact on him. He explained how to Dharmesh Sheth...

Football and politics have crossed paths in recent days with a number of high-profile players and football clubs coming out with a show of support for the Black Lives Matter movement, following the death of Floyd.

Floyd died on May 25 after a white police officer, who has since been charged with his murder, held him down by pressing a knee into his neck.

In an in-depth exclusive interview with Sky Sports, Defoe outlined his own views on the subject, speaking from the heart about how attitudes towards race need to change...

As a black man, how have the events in the States and beyond impacted you?

Massively. It's dominated the news now and there's been so much negativity around the coronavirus and that was such a big story that it was going to take something drastic to take it out of the news. To witness something like that was shocking. I know my black history and I've watched films and this is all part of my education about this.

I remember just sitting there thinking how lucky I am. This generation is different, they will not tolerate that. Seeing that made me feel lucky to be living in these times. To see that, and to have a conversation on the phone with my mum about it where she was crying, it was shocking. I never thought I'd ever see anything like that in my lifetime.

Jermain Defoe celebrates after scoring to make it 1-0 to Rangers against Ross County
Image: Defoe has been a professional football player for 21 years

It takes you back to the 1960s, where these things were happening every day. It's all about justice and to see people coming together and I'm not condoning rioting and breaking into shops because that shouldn't happen. It's about justice.

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It's something that you want to get out of society. I think about players before me like Cyrille Regis, Ian Wright and John Barnes and all of the racism they got, they paved the way for my generation to come along and not get as much. Nobody is going to stand for it now and everyone wants justice.

When you see these things happening on the news, do you think 'that could be me' or 'that could be somebody I know'?

Of course. When I watched the video I was just speechless. When you're in danger you call the police, so to see someone brutally murdered like that in broad daylight, with it being recorded, it's an act of evil. It's hard to see that.

Do you think people from a white background understand what it means to live as a black person?

I don't think necessarily they fully understand because you have to go through these experiences. I've got white friends who have sent me messages and they're trying to educate themselves. People are coming together on social media from all different races, which is an amazing thing.

I've had my fair share of things. Years ago I was stopped in Essex because the police thought I was driving on a ban. I explained but I got arrested and taken to the police station and they let me out in the morning. It turned out it was a computer error. You try to put it to the back of your mind but when I saw what I saw the other day it brings all of the memories back.

Jermain Defoe of Spurs celebrates scoring their second goal from the penalty spot during the UEFA Europa League Group K match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and FC Sheriff at White Hart Lane on November 7, 2013 in London, England.
Image: Defoe was mistakenly arrested during his time playing for Tottenham Hotspur

What can football do and is it doing enough?

All the campaigns try to help but I still feel like we can do more. Especially with something as serious as this, we can always do more. I listened to Kevin Prince-Boateng the other day talking about more players needing to speak out but you have different characters and some people feel they have to be careful.

But come out and speak because it's such a big thing, and something I never thought I'd be talking about. People will say "it's in America" but let's be honest, it's happening everywhere and the one positive to come out of this is seeing people march together to get justice.

Why do you think people are fearful to speak out?

I honestly don't know. Lots of people post stuff on social media and are involved on marches, which is amazing to see but there's a lot more that can speak out about such a subject.

It's not an easy thing to talk about but we have to talk about it because enough's enough. I've seen all of these images of people that have lost their lives and because of what?

Kevin-Prince Boateng discusses recent events following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota
Image: Kevin-Prince Boateng has launched a powerful anti-racism message urging footballers to take a stand

Have you experienced racism on or off the pitch?

With the incident with the police before, Harry Redknapp came out and supported me and that meant a lot to me. I kept getting stopped when I was driving and I've got letters from the police apologising but the way I felt when I got arrested and I knew I hadn't done anything wrong.

It actually baffles me. I never look at someone and look at the colour of their skin. God sees your heart and that's it. It's really hard to understand how these people have so much evil in them to do what they do and think they can get away with it.

It's sad for everyone, not just black people. But it's special to see people come together.

Do you feel George Floyd's death will be the tipping point and that racism will stay on the agenda?

I hope so and it's sad that someone had to get sacrificed for people to think enough's enough. It's happened too many times and it's been happening for years. It would dominate the news and then nobody would talk about it but this is such a big thing, I don't want to hear people talking about the riots, I want to hear people talking about why people are angry.

Coco Gauff of the United States celebrates after winning a point during her Women's Singles third round match against Naomi Osaka of Japan day five of the 2020 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 24, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia.
Image: Tennis player Coco Gauff gave a passionate speech at a Black Lives Matter protest

I don't think it can be brushed under the carpet - people need to understand what black people are going through, and it's been happening for years.

What goes through your mind when UEFA gives out punishments for things such as racist chanting at football matches?

It's a slap on the wrist and if they do it again it's another slap on the wrist. People then think it's okay to keep doing it but enough is enough. This is 2020, it's not the 1960s. These things should not be happening now, people need to be educated and the punishments need to be drastic.

Have you ever questioned whether you'd want to continue playing when you see certain incidents happening?

I've never questioned if I want to continue playing because when you've been given this gift, I feel like it's my duty to use that. I feel like I've been blessed in life and been able to fulfil my dreams and do something I've always wanted to do.

Tyrone Mings attended the Black Lives Matter protest rally at Victoria Square in Birmingham town centre (Picture via @OfficialTM_3)
Image: Tyrone Mings attended the Black Lives Matter protest rally at Victoria Square in Birmingham town centre (Picture via @OfficialTM_3)

So I would never allow someone to jeopardise that. But on the other hand it's made me question my life after football. Is it worth me doing my coaching badges? I love football and I'd love to give something back but I question that because all of the players I looked up to as a kid, the black players, they're not managers and coaches. They're Premier League legends and they're not in the game.

I'd like to think at some point I'd get an opportunity. I've spoken to Sol Campbell a lot, someone who has played in six major tournaments for his country, and it's good to see he's getting a chance. So I'd like to think if an opportunity was available, then I'd be able to get it.

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