The campaign caught up with SRtRC supporter and former professional footballer Jason Lee
Show Racism the Red Card had the opportunity to talk with former professional footballer, manager and now Equalities Education Executive at the Professional Footballers' Association, Jason Lee.
SRtRC wanted to find out about Jason's current role with major campaign funder, The PFA and his own experiences of racism during his playing career and beyond. Jason regularly attends SRtRC education events and his work is focussed on education with professional footballers.
Jason you’re now working for the PFA, can you tell us about your role there?
“I’ve been working for the PFA now for close to 13 months. Being a former player, being involved in the game, I was told that there was a position at the PFA in the area of equalities and education.
“Towards the end of my career I went in to education, so I delivered NVQ and BTEC programmes, apprenticeships, scholarships for Nottingham Forest in the Community, so as well as coaching and being involved in the game I was kind of heading towards the education side of things.
“So the PFA posted a few roles to deal with equalities issues and that’s something that has been close to my heart throughout my playing career. Being some who has personally suffered, whether from racial abuse or taunting from the stands, which seems to go part and parcel with football, I felt that there was something that I could maybe come in and offer in terms of experience and also try and implement a few things going forward.
“My role now is to deliver equality and diversity training sessions to the senior professionals at football clubs and we, the PFA, have delivered now to close to eighty clubs, which is the majority of football clubs up and down the land and it’s been very well received. You know, it’s been important that we have made the players aware of the rules and regulations around equality and diversity. It has been in conjunction with the Premier League, the Football League, the FA and obviously ourselves, we’ve delivered it.
“As I say, the clubs and the players have taken it on board, I think to be begin with they were unsure what it was we were coming in to speak about. There have been a number of cases, especially high profile in the news over the last season, which has helped kind of reinforce what we are talking about really. If we can eradicate those issues going forward then we will have done what we set out to do, that’s important.
“It’s around the nine protected characteristics, you know it’s not all about ‘race’, we are talking about homophobia, disability, anti-semitism, sexism, we’re covering a number of areas you know, we’re trying to educate our players, our young people and to be honest there are some of the older generation of people who still need educating as well. So we’re trying to get the message across.”
What impact is this work having on the players and why is it important for them to be educated about discrimination?
“Well we know it’s important, we take it for granted, if I can just go to the fact that the majority of people in other businesses have equality and diversity training you know, but they can still turn up to a football match, forget themselves and do and say stupid things. That can happen, it is a society problem we know that, people can feel quite comfortable saying certain things with other groups of people.
“We talk about the word banter in football clubs which football players tend to hide behind. That school ground based mentality where it’s based on anything you can do and can get away with something. If we can break that down, you know we’re dealing with the players, we’re asking the FA and Police to deal with the general public, but if we can get our house in order and ensure that players are better behaved and set better examples, there would be no excuses.
“We are trying to offer zero tolerance, the fact that there aren’t any excuses. Once everyone’s been educated, if you are penalised going forward then you can’t really hide behind the fact that you didn’t know or you weren’t told. We’re hoping that the long term effects of it, we might not see for a number of years. I mean things have changed but I believe over the years, we’re still not happy. When I speak to a number of foreign players that have come into this country they say how much better it is than the Countries they’ve left behind. We’ve got things in place that aren’t in other Countries. Some people in other Countries are not trying to hit discrimination as hard as we are.
“We are doing some things right, sometimes I think we have to be a bit easier on ourselves, sometimes we give ourselves a hard time and say we’re not doing enough but I think we are. Across the board Kick It Out and a number of organisations, Show Racism the Red Card, I think we’re all trying to improve things and things are improving, you know slowly but surely.”
That’s a good point, SRtRC focus on tackling racism in society through education and using the high profile of professional footballers, so it’s important isn’t it that they know they are often role-models for young people?
“Players are held in high esteem by a lot of people rightly or wrongly. I mean some players will embrace the fact that they are looked on and highly respected and they go out and set good, examples whereas some players won’t really enjoy that fact and say ‘well why should I be held in that high echelon of people?’, but you can’t get away from it if you’re a high profile person earning a lot of money, you’re on TV, you’re in the media spotlight you know.
“Footballers are like celebrities, they are like TV stars, film stars and why burst a bubble of a young fan, or someone who looks up to you by behaving badly, you’re only letting yourself down, so I think young players and players have a responsibility, they have to appreciate that and they have to take that on board once they sign for a football club, they are representing the football club, representing the badge and they don’t want to let people down and they shouldn’t do.”
You had a long career in football, including Premier league with Forest, promotion with Watford, spells with Charlton, Southend, Lincoln, Peterborough, did you experience racism as a player?
“Yeah of course, I mean, I don’t say that flippantly. It’s amazing when I speak to some young players, they say they’ve not experienced it. You know growing up in the Seventies I experienced it not only on the terraces from football supporters but also I experienced it on the street. So it was just one of those things, I’m a London boy and in East London there was still high tension, a lot of racism around, you know the National Front were in full effect.
“You just knew what things were about in terms of dealing with racism. It was kind of accepted, in a football game you know you went to a football match, watching or playing you heard a lot of racial taunts. It’s amazing how accepted it was at football clubs. I’m not saying it was accepted by all but I think it was such a strong element that it was hard to eradicate.
“It was only really when it crossed over into violence that we as a Country said you know we’ve got to do something about it, it’s gone too far. It’s not OK having your comments, but when it went to violence it’s like going back 100-150 years you know. I think it took a lot of people, the government to get involved before we realised that things have to change and as I said I experienced it as a player and didn’t enjoy it, I always thought if there was something I could do about it I would offer my support. Personally I always got involved with any initiative that would help drive any discrimination out of the game.”
You mentioned that it has improved certainly inside stadiums now in the UK now, but it’s still a big problem in society isn’t it?
“Of course, I mean you can’t eradicate it from everybody, there are people that will walk around and just believe in what they believe. It’s once they make those comments outspoken and they’re out in the public domain I think that the fact that we are clamping down on Twitter and social networks, I mean we can still do more in that respect but the fact that people are being told they will be charged – people think its freedom of speech, well freedom to some extent but once you are offending somebody that freedom stops.
“Once people are told that they are being held accountable for their actions and things they do today I think we are having a more positive response from people. If you haven’t got anything nice to say then keep it quiet. I think people in the past thought that they could do and say what they wanted and the majority of people got away with it.”
Do you think that the Chelsea supporters who wouldn’t let a black man on the train in Paris recently will have been surprised at the attention and condemnation their actions have attracted?
“They were incredibly naïve if that was the case, if they thought they could get away with what they were doing. I mean it almost went back twenty years to see a group of people acting in such a way in a public area. So they were incredibly naïve, maybe they were fuelled on alcohol and forgot. I thought that Chelsea dealt with it really well. I think it’s important that the highest people at the club, i.e the owner Abramovich and the manager they all came out and condemned it straight away.
“They took action, so I mean that’s vitally important, they distanced themselves from these so called supporters, they are not supporters as far as they are concerned. They distanced themselves and with social networks and camera phones how are you going to get away with doing things and saying things in the public arena without people picking it up?
“I think that’s a positive, the media, technology, that’s a positive, to be able to hopefully use that video evidence, people can corroborate the story and then you can incriminate people. From a fans’ point of view, people can hear and see what you’re saying, you’re not going to get away with it. It’s important that these people do get charged and we’re not weak with them because the eyes of football are upon it. If the penalty’s not serious enough then people will probably go and make the same mistakes again.”
You’ve also coached with young people and adults, including managing Boston United, what do you think are the barriers to getting a better representation of black managers and coaches across the leagues?
“That’s something that we are really trying to push on at the PFA, we’ve improved the data around BAME representation in the game. There are coaches, there are managers, there are people out there that want to strive and there always has been.
“I think the perception has been that there are not enough numbers, so what we’re doing with the FA and Premier League, is collating the information to put in front of people and say that’s not true the numbers are there, the problem has been that people have not been able to get an interview and get people into positions to even have an opportunity you know, to sell themselves, to get themselves into a position of coaching or management. That’s the most important. We spoke about the Rooney Rule, we’d probably call it something else in this country but it will have a similar impact.
“You know people are assuming that it will just be BAME people who get opportunities, that’s not the case, all we’re asking is that people get the same opportunities as somebody else and a transparent interviewing process. You know if somebody’s not being interviewed, why is that? If there falling down on a lack of qualifications, or lack of this, lack of that, at least people will know. The last thing anybody wants is to go for an interview, not get the job, or not even get the interview and not realise why. Why didn’t I get the interview? Why didn’t I get the job?
“At least you can go away and improve on it. Go away and get the relevant credentials that people are asking for. It’s not paranoia if you’re from a minority you’re not getting the same opportunity as people that you know, groups of friends, groups of people that you’ve grown up with, you might even be more experienced, have better credentials than them then what are you going to put it down to? I think people have tried to claim that people have got a chip on their shoulder, or people are being paranoid, but what are you going to put it down to? If people don’t get the right answers, if people don’t tell you the reason why, other than your skin colour or you gender, you know sexism, if people aren’t giving you the reasons why then how are you going to improve how are you going to get yourself in a position to go and apply for these positions?”
Absolutely, it’s really the process that has to change. Football is perhaps the only industry where people can be employed on that basis of who you know?
“Well I’m studying governance now and I mean I’m not the only one, there are a number of high profile individuals. Les Ferdinand did it, Chris Ramsey. Obviously they’ve gone into positions at QPR and I’m not saying that’s come from studying governance, but we are studying governance because we know that we need to put people of BAME backgrounds, not only in coaching and managing, but how about looking at boardroom positions?
“Go and put yourself in a higher position as opposed to coming from the bottom, why not put yourself in a higher position? Once you get into a position of power you might be able to influence things from there. We know that there are people from BAME backgrounds and experience that have got something to offer in the boardroom, in discrimination panels, in the FA, you know in higher profile positions.
“So as much as we are talking about management and coaching, we need to be looking at directors, executives, chairmen and chief execs. You know we need to be aiming a bit higher, I mean incredibly we’ve set our barrier a little bit too low, we can aim higher still. That would have an impact and that’s another route, that’s something that we are trying to do to be proactive.
“Whenever I speak to a young coach, a young manager especially if they are from a BAME background who has already thought that there is no future in the game, you’ve got to keep striving you know. If players had that same response 20, 30 years ago, then the playing position would not have improved. You’ve got to knock down the doors and get to that position. Slowly but surely I think in the future, it will be slow, but slowly but surely people will start taking up positions in high profile areas.”
What advice have you passed on to your kids, should they experience or witness racism in society or school?
“It’s the same thing I’m saying to young players now. I’m saying if we’re putting things in place and sanctions to deal with peoples’ trust in the system, I know sometimes the system can let you down, if you don’t get the result that you’re looking for. But if you suffer from racism or any form of discrimination you need to go and report it, that’s the most important thing. Don’t suffer in silence, go and speak to people. If you’re in school speak to your teachers and your head teacher.
“Make sure that people are aware, I mean people don’t tell their parents what’s going on at school that’s a big thing, but trust in your family and your friends. If you can’t tell somebody, tell your parents, or your friends or your older sibling and maybe they’ll be able to report it on your behalf. Don’t respond with violence, or fight fire with fire, that’s easy response, trust in the system now. When people get publicised, no-one wants to be labelled as a racist or a homophobe and that’s the most embarrassing thing for a person.
“So don’t be afraid to report it, that’s my advice for a young person, trust in the system, go and let people know that you’re not happy, deal with it and don’t be a victim yourself. Ask people to go and deal with it on your behalf, because there are people out there like SRtRC, like the PFA and a number of organisations that are really trying to improve the system and without people reporting these things we can’t do anything on their behalf.”