Earlier this summer – weeks after the murder of George Floyd, and days before the Premier League resumed following the initial COVID-19 outbreak – we published a piece outlining why it’s so essential for football’s highest-profile white players to stand alongside their Black teammates and support the fight for racial equality.
As our writer, Mayowa Quadri, said so eloquently at the time:
“It shouldn’t be only Black players fighting racism, and it’s not Raheem Sterling’s job to be the person football’s leaders can hide behind in order to declare that ‘football isn’t a racist sport’.
One third of Premier League players are Black, and every single changing room is a celebration of diversity. They truly represent the towns and cities so many of us live in. In the real world, if our neighbour was facing discrimination… we’d back them. And it should be the same story for the game’s leading white players right now.”
The importance of this message was relayed to us during last month’s VERSUS FC Board meeting with Kick It Out’s Troy Townsend, when he spoke with intense passion and hope about what a difference Harry Kane’s voice would make in helping others understand what’s happening in society right now.
As England captain, Kane’s profile and stature is titanic, and he’s probably far closer and more influential among traditional sections of football’s fanbase than young players from diverse backgrounds like Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford or Jadon Sancho.
In most cases, the latter group of players are preaching to the converted on issues of diversity, tolerance and inclusivity.
Harry Kane could really make a difference. His voice holds weight with a totally different demographic.
And that’s why I need to talk about my recent experience with Harry Kane and his team, and how that voice wasn’t used, but refused. And how his platform wasn’t embraced, but neglected.
Last month, I was given the opportunity to interview Harry Kane ahead of the new Premier League season with a leading soft drinks brand. It was an exciting time for Kane, and Spurs players generally, because there was plenty to talk about. Jose had got busy in the transfer market, Spurs were making more memes than goals after the release of ‘All or Nothing’ on Amazon, and Kane had just taken a knee with England for the very first time. It was a significant and powerful moment.
As is standard practice for journalists when they interview athletes, we submitted questions in advance so Kane and his team were able to be briefed on the interview and prepare accordingly.
Of the dozens of interviews I’ve done with elite-level athletes throughout my career, I can’t recall many times I’ve had questions blocked by an athlete or their team.
On this occasion, two of my 12 questions were blocked. Crossed out with a red line. No explanation given.
You can read the censored questions below.
We saw England players take a knee over the international break. How did the squad come to that decision, and as captain, how important was that moment for you?
Have you felt players becoming more comfortable when speaking about these issues? It seems to be that case. I can’t imagine football – at large – would be having this discussion 5 or 10 years ago…
The only thing Harry’s team didn’t want to talk about was Black Lives Matter.
I pushed back. I said that Harry’s position as England captain makes his voice count. I said that England players had just taken a knee one day earlier. Why wouldn’t Harry want a chance to speak about what a positive step that was and what it meant to the entire squad?
They still said no. Harry wouldn’t be talking about those issues. I was told I could submit different questions, or cancel the interview.
I cancelled the interview.
We’ve got no idea why Harry’s team wouldn’t allow those questions to be asked. It’s entirely plausible that he feels more comfortable letting people with lived experiences speak publicly on the issue, but it’s also equally plausible that he’s afraid to talk about the subject because he doesn’t know how it will be received.
We’ll never know, because we were never allowed to have the conversation.
This article isn’t us taking a shot exclusively at Harry Kane. But it is an opportunity to again ask the question about why more white players aren’t willing to be vocal in their support for Black Lives Matter?
This isn’t a time for anyone to be silent, and this isn’t a time to ignore the problems that exist in football. In the same week as I was due to speak with Kane, the French Football president claimed racism didn’t exist because “fans cheer Black players when they score a goal”. Comments like that are pitiful – but commonplace. So many people in the game remain ignorant as to why racism remains, and would rather cover their ears than engage with the truth.
One year ago this week, England’s Black players were racially abused playing a game in Bulgaria. The match was stopped twice. It was one of the most outrageous and most blatant instances of racist abuse I’ve seen in 20 years as a football fan.
How would Raheem Sterling, Tyrone Mings, Marcus Rashford, Callum Wilson, Fikayo Tomori, Tammy Abraham, Joe Gomez, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Jadon Sancho have felt that night?
How would they feel knowing that 11 months on, their team captain and the biggest role model in the national game, refused to talk about Black Lives Matter. Refused to change the narrative and help create an environment where those despicable scenes are no longer tolerated, and no longer exist.
These are the questions Kane’s team needs to consider.
In 2020, we’ve seen Marcus Rashford force a government U-turn and provide free meals for millions of children in poverty. We’ve seen Jordan Henderson, Troy Deeney, Mark Noble and more coordinate football’s fundraising response to COVID-19. We’ve seen Wilfried Zaha give free accommodation to NHS workers in London. We’ve seen Ben Mee speak out against racist Burnley fans.
That’s what leadership looks like – and Harry Kane has previously shown it, too. Earlier this year, he generously sponsored Leyton Orient’s kits for the season to help them through a difficult financial period.
If Kane can step up to the plate and offer his support on issues like grassroots football, he should also be able to do it for racial equality and Black Lives Matter.
His voice really matters – and we hope he finds the courage to use it.