The football and wider sporting community has come together to defend the England stars who were racially abused following their Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy on Sunday night.
Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka each missed penalties in England’s unsuccessful shootout, and as it so often does in the age of social media, anger and disappointment quickly boiled over into abuse.
You didn’t have to look far to find racist vitriol on the usual social media platforms, with Saka – a 19-year-old playing in his first major tournament – forced to delete his Instagram account hours after the game.
The FA quickly condemned the reaction, and Gareth Southgate has labelled the hateful messages sent to his players ‘unforgivable’
“Three lads who were brilliant all summer had the courage to step up and take a penalty when the stakes were high,” he said.
“They deserve support and backing, not the vile racist abuse they’ve had since last night. If you abuse anyone on social media you’re not an England fan and we don’t want you.”
Rashford, meanwhile, also had plenty to say. The Manchester United star became the voice of a generation during the pandemic, using his significant platform to fight against food poverty and affect genuine social change.
But as long as he is a human being capable of missing a penalty, it won’t matter to some, who are happy to scapegoat his activism as a distraction rather than praise his selflessness and generosity.
We’ve heard Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel voice their support for the players in question, but for many within the England squad, it was too little, too late from the Conservative ministers.
Tyrone Mings accused Patel of hypocrisy for her anti-immigration policies and previous comments about ‘gesture politics’ in relation to England players taking the knee.
It was a similar sentiment from Andy Murray, who used the situation to call out Piers Morgan. Morgan was sympathetic towards the England players, but that sentiment was nowhere to be seen just a few days ago when he criticised Emma Raducanu – an 18-year-old woman of colour – for withdrawing from Wimbledon.
Morgan and various other high-profile commentators questioned her mental strength, and a well-measured tweet from Murray subtly called out the double standards on show.
The abuse aimed at England’s black players wasn’t limited to social media. A mural honouring Rashford in his home suburb of Withington was defaced with racist messaging, but fortunately, there are some good people left in the world.
Images circulating on social media showed how local people came together to cover up the graffiti, decorating it with touching messages of support to Rashford.
It’s important to remember while the fight for social justice continues, the racists and bigots are in the minority. For every anonymous account hurling abuse at Saka, Sancho and Rashford, there are several who will come out in support of the England stars.
But if we’ve learned anything from the past 24 hours or so, it’s that there is a long way still to go.