We’re living in difficult times, yet there is hope.
Hope that the next generation will make the right calls; hope that high-profile social media companies will better understand their role in our society and embrace the need for change; hope that the most popular athletes in the world will drive that change.
I spent 45 minutes talking to Clive Palmer (@Clivepafc) about social media abuse, racism and the need for change related to those hot topics.
Before that, we talked about the Arsenal and the story behind his links with the Club, which date back to the 1971 FA Cup final against Liverpool, won in extra-time courtesy of a goal from Charlie George. Yeah, that goal. That celebration. Clive’s got off to a perfect start as an Arsenal fan.
“This is where I belong”, Clive told me with reference to his first trips to London to watch an Arsenal game, “there was no racism, no bad chants, nothing that would make you feel embarrassed”.
Although football was predominantly a white working class universe, as a young kid he felt included rather than excluded, something that unfortunately is no longer happening these days.
Something changed. Everything changed in the past couple of years.
“Society has revealed itself on what they really feel” to use Clive’s words.
That’s the maddening part: the extreme views and polarized debate around systemic racism, the denial, the protests around the world and the way people seem to camp on their opinions no matter what.
Clive told me that “the only way to change opinions is to be a better version of yourself” and I couldn’t agree more, but that requires a constant effort that not many seem able (or willing) to make.
The next generations are key to get out of this vile, abusive world, they will save us.
“They’re not having any of it” he said when we were talking about the news, the political agenda-driven narrative on traditional and modern media. I really hope Clive is right so I asked him how we can make sure that the youngest ones out there, who rely massively on Facebook or Twitter to gain access to information, don’t become victims of the careless approach of these giants, when it comes to spreading fake news, extremize the debate or push for polarization to make their profit from the engagement generated.
“That’s how it is out there. People don’t change their minds anymore and that’s very dangerous” Clive said, before offering his idea of change: “We need to apply education. Learn about yourself and about your history. Learn about things that made sense. I think it should be freely available. It should be a much more balanced sort of education from the youth upward to tread that normal line. And then, once you get into your adulthood, then the world is open to you.”
There’s always this feeling of mindfulness when Clive speaks, there’s no arrogance in his words but the assertiveness of a man with clear ideas and principles.
He told me how Emile Smith-Rowe was indirectly told to “remember he is white” in relation to his south-London accent, emerged during an interview, and how shocking it was, although pretty standard these days on whatever social media.
Speaking of social media, the Arsenal launched the #StopOnlineAbuse campaign, which adds to the other initiatives promoted by players, by Clubs, by Associations to fight online abuse, whether it is related to racism or not.
All of us at Arsenal – players, staff and fans – stand together to address the flow of abusive posts and messages on social media platforms— Arsenal (@Arsenal) March 30, 2021
We call on everyone to join forces and identify, condemn and highlight abuse when they see it pic.twitter.com/3WEZLt7uCt
We talked about players taking the knee before the game and players stopping doing so: who is right?
It is a wider issue, it’s not only about taking the knee. It’s a culture problem and Clive cares a lot about culture.
“Can we look at football and make sure football is right? That we are balanced. We are looking at ourselves, looking at how our game is being led, looking at how we are developing young men, looking at how we are developing young scholars in their education. Look at our culture, within our academies and within our Clubs.”
It starts from there and could lead to greater things but we should not expect football to fix all the problems in the world. Football can draw attention to a problem, though, and this is why taking the knee is still very important and very relevant: “It [taking the knee] starts being questioned and it gets diluted and when it gets questioned, the original reason that brought it is getting lost, which is a shame”
Among those who keep taking the knee before the game and those who won’t do it anymore, someone took a different path: Thierry Henry.
The King decided to disable his social media accounts in protest with the lack of reaction to the abuse and threats, which are becoming too toxic to ignore.
Is it a good move? Is it giving up to bullies? Could it make a difference?
Similar to Wilfried Zaha refusing to take the knee, Thierry Henry decided to do something different to remind people that the problem is not solved, at all. There’s not much he can do alone but what if other footballers follow his lead?
“I think it could [make a difference] and it needs to be because what will happen there? It will then go to basketball. It will then go to American football. It will go, it will start to travel.” Although Thierry Henry only has 3 million followers, Clive reckons that this trend could become very sensitive if it reaches global athletes: “If you get a LeBron James with 80 million followers and he goes, “we want social media to be better” everyone follows that that’s a massive blow to revenue.”
“Look how things will change quickly then! it’s money. I’m afraid it is money. All of this traffic, all this data movement allows people to understand more about people and sell them more products. It’s money. Yeah, we go back there, you know.”
We wrapped-up the conversation with some thoughts about the upcoming Europa League tie against Slavia Prague, a Club historically involved in racist incidents on and off the pitch.
Will Arsenal do something? Will they use this particular moment to reinforce the message they started with their recent campaign?
It’s up for debate, I definitely expect Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to pull the Black Panther mask, while Clive feels that the Arsenal will wear a special t-shirt during warm-up, say something on the Programme but doesn’t expect anything bold: “I’m not sure what that would look like, but I imagine they’ll do a number of things and make it absolutely clear where they stand and that may be enough”
Mind – “it may be enough”, that’s an important nuance. What will be enough is the next generation learning what is right and what is wrong and get the concept that actions have consequences, like the 10 years-old boy getting an earful and having his parents called-in for having used a racial slur during a game.
A teachable moment, shared by Clive, that will make the difference in his education and make him a better adult, a line clearly drawn between what is acceptable and what is not.
Education is key, culture is key, accountability is key.
There is hope.
Thirty-something Italian, currently in Switzerland. Gooner since mid-ninties, when the Gunners defeated my hometown team, in Copenhagen. Twelve years ago I started my own blog (www.clockenditalia.com) after after some experiences with Italian websites and football magazines. Debate, don’t insult or you’re out.