Radio pundit Collymore the high-profile recipient of online racism and prejudice, but many examples go unreported
Be warned, for those who want to go check Stan’s twitter timeline (@StanCollymore), it is not for the faint-hearted. In fact, in any context, it is as vile and alarming as it is unexpected from so-called football fans.”
Shaka Hislop, Honorary President, Show Racism the Red Card
Last week, former Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa and Liverpool striker and Talk SPORT pundit Stan Collymore once again spoke out about the racist abuse he was receiving on Twitter.
The latest series of attacks appeared to come as a reaction to Collymore’s opinion on a penalty decision involving Liverpool FC's Luis Suarez, and once again the specific issue of racism within football was raised, despite the problem being far greater than an overspill of ‘misguided passion’ from the terraces. The sad reality is that Mr Collymore, an active and long-standing Twitter user, has been the ‘target’ of racist abuse via the social media platform all too often over the last six years.
In August 2011, a 21 year old man was arrested by Northumbria Police following reports of racist tweets sent to Mr Collymore. Police later added: "A 21-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of publishing written material to stir up racial hatred and is currently in police custody helping police with their enquiries."
This was the second arrest made in connection with abuse targeted at Collymore via Twitter during 2012.
He claims to have received countless other tweets containing racist language throughout his time on Twitter, and whilst quick to praise the response of the police, Mr Collymore remains critical of what he perceives to be a lack of action from the social media giants.
Show Racism the Red Card spoke to honorary president and former professional footballer Shaka Hislop about his sadness and anger at the abuse received by Collymore and his memories of treatment by opposition fans.
“To see the racial abuse and death threats aimed at Stan Collymore for stating an opinion, beggars belief. Be warned, for those who want to go check Stan’s twitter timeline (@StanCollymore), it is not for the faint-hearted. In fact, in any context, it is as vile and alarming as it is unexpected from so-called football fans.”
“And that’s the thing, in discussing the issue with fellow ex and current professionals, the only explanation is that the abuse is coming from adolescents, stoned on the apparent power that social media gives them in what, I can only assume, is their way of supporting their club and one of its players.”
“I can remember the first time I played at Anfield like it was yesterday. It was, in fact, November 1995, a League Cup game, 3 months into my Premier League career. After spending the first three years of my professional career with Reading FC in the Second and then First Division of the Football League, this was my first time playing at a club ground with the history of Anfield.”
“As we stood in the tunnel, as I was getting ready to run toward the Kop for the first time in my career, former Liverpool stand out, Peter Beardsley gave me some invaluable advice, “clap the Kop when you go out”. I thought he was joking, I’d become used to the blind abuse goalkeepers get at every away ground. Peter could see the disbelief in my face, he followed up with “trust me, this place is like no other.” I followed his advice, a little reluctantly. The Kop applauded me right back, warmly. And there began my love affair with the Anfield fans. I maintain, aside from the clubs I’ve played for, I have a real soft spot for Liverpool Football Club.”
“Don’t get me wrong, Liverpool Football Club isn’t the only club battling with this very issue. They have been the focus this time around because their supposed fans are the ones who have Stan Collymore, and anyone who shares his opinion, in their cross-hairs. And by the way, Stan’s view shared is shared by a majority according to a poll conducted by Match of the Day the evening of the incident. Not that the poll actually means much or proves anything, nor does the debate between MOTD host, Gary Lineker, and Stan himself, but it does show the value of discussion and debate in the game.”
The BBC has reported that, in reference to last week’s abuse, officers from Staffordshire Police had spoken to a 14-year-old in the Liverpool area and a 15-year-old in Bedfordshire, but that neither had been arrested and the investigation was ongoing.
Herein lays the crux of the real issue. Some young people use social media with an almost complete lack of self censorship and a disregard for the consequences. Stan Collymore himself has observed that one of the most concerning issues is the apparent lack of understanding among his abusers about the illegality of their actions. In highlighting their racist actions, Collymore has been met with an attitude of ‘it doesn’t matter; there is nothing anyone can do about it.’
We must work with young people to help them understand why racism and prejudice is wrong, helping provide a context for their actions that reflects the historical weighting of the issues. Those that tweet antiemetic abuse, often targeted at fans of Tottenham Hotspur F.C, appear not to make the connection between the words that they are using and the horrors of a holocaust which saw the systematic extermination of over six million people.
Those who use racist terms referring to skin colour disregard hundreds of years of slavery and prejudice, and do not seem to understand that in the eyes of the law, the ‘target’ of their abuse is irrelevant; the tweet can be deemed criminal if anyone takes offence.
Intentionally broad, the definition is designed to remove blurred lines surrounding ‘intention’ and ‘victim’, meaning that any racist language or behaviour is unacceptable due to its potential to cause offence. And with over 500 million user accounts registered with Twitter – that’s a very big potential audience who could be offended.
At Show Racism the Red Card we work with over 50,000 young people every year; educating them about the history of racism and encouraging them to think critically about their own prejudices and their language and actions. Our Education Workers talk to them about their responsibilities when using social media and help them to make connections between the words they post and the treatment of people throughout history.
Racism and social media is an area which we hope to address in more depth in the future in order that we can avoid further arrests for young people who themselves are burdened by the racism they espouse.
Despite Mr Collymore’s position at the centre of these particular cases, this is not a football problem or a personal grievance; it is a further illustration of the problem of inter-generational racism within society and the importance of delivering better anti-racism education.