In December of 2018, Manchester City forward, Raheem Sterling, had racial obscenities screamed at him by Chelsea fans. These fans have been banned from games during the investigation that followed. Sterling could not shake the words he had heard that night, and decided the following day to post an Instagram comprised of two photos and a 207-word message explaining not just what happened during the previous game, but explaining why it happened.
Racist comments by fans and inaccurate portrayals of issues related to race through the media are not uncommon encounters for Sterling. The media has been known to comment on Sterling’s spending habits, portraying him as a very flashy athlete that is not spending his money and/or earned it at all.
“It is not just me,” Sterling said. “Whenever you see a report on a black player or a black entertainer it has to end up with money, or bling, or cars, or something flashy. With a successful white person, it is nice, short, sweet, what a lovable person. Name me one white player who is thought of as ‘blingy’” .
In cases such as Sterling’s, when Black athletes are given attention by the media, they can find themselves caught in the “white racial frame.” The media relies on the White racial frame, which is a ‘toolkit’ people have used to understand, act, and also generalize groups and races in society. This frame pushes the racial ideologies surrounding the idea that blackness governs the actions of coloured athletes like Sterling, creating interpretations that the outcomes for Black and White athletes producing the same actions, varies greatly. In Sterling’s message, he tried to highlight this issue, stating that the media has been portraying black players in a distorted way for far too long. The example he highlighted consisted of when a white player buys a new house for his family it is portrayed positively, however when a black player does the same, this act is laced with hints of unearned excess.
Racial ideologies are very prevalent in sport, and can promote generalizations used to judge individuals in a particular racial category. The use of racial ideologies can only function by those in a position of power or influence, in this particular case the media, to enforce discrimination. The media’s portrayal of Sterling being a flashy, too young, and undeserving of his success, drives fans, especially on rivalry teams, to then judge him with these similar generalizations, and even use racial slurs. What Sterling tried to explain in his message is that the incident that occurred with the Chelsea fans could have been prevented had the media been more aware of their perpetuation of stereotypes and the importance of fair publicity.