Football is an issue that has not had many employment law updates recently. However, our next item of current news examines discrimination in the media and the prevalence of racism in today’s society and how employers should react.
Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of glancing down the Mail’s sidebar of shame might have noticed that England and Manchester City FC footballer, Raheem Sterling features regularly. Apparently, Sterling buying a house, buying a sink, buying a house for his mum, flying in a private jet, flying with a budget airline, going to Greggs and going to a budget store are all apparently items of news.
As background for non-footie followers, Sterling was born in Jamaica and moved to England aged 5. Before moving, his father was killed in a gun related gang violence incident. Sterling grew up in London and has played for Manchester City and Liverpool as well as the England national team.
Whilst Sterling makes headlines more than some, most high profile footballers, regardless of race, form part of the celebrity culture that must be followed and documented better than any MI5 agent could ever dream of.
Whilst the aforementioned Mail together with the Sun, Star, Express and other tabloids do report on all footballers, the treatment of Sterling and some other black footballers, particularly the language and context of the articles, seems to be different than when white players do similar things.
For example, when Sterling or black teammate Tosin Adarabioyo bought houses for themselves or family, it was reported as an act of showing off and given a bling culture spin. When white teammate Phil Foden purchased a house for his family it was reported as humble and down to earth. The humble Foden also had a birthday cake styled in the shape of £10-50 notes!
In an age of hostile environment policies, Tommy Robinson, UKIP being too racist for Nigel Farage and a rise in farright political movements across all of Europe it is unfortunately little surprise that instances of racist abuse (and other hate crimes) are increasing at football grounds. In the past few weeks there have been instances at Hearts, Aberdeen and Falkirk in Scotland together with a banana being thrown at an Arsenal player by Spurs fans and Sterling being allegedly called a black c**t by Chelsea fans.
Sterling has hit out at the media for fuelling the racism fire and he makes a valid point. Whether the media reporting is intentional discrimination, deliberate or unconscious, the language and context of the reporting of black players supports the theory that the media has a race problem.
In a society that seems more tolerant to racist opinions, how should employers react? The answer is they should keep following the Equality Act and take a zero tolerance approach to anyone who purports racist behaviour in or out of work.
Colin Wing, the fan who made the comment to Sterling, has since been dismissed by his employer as a result of the incident. Most likely this will have been a dismissal for gross misconduct, the employer reasonably believed he made the comment, or, some other substantial reason, the company felt there was reputational risk/loss of trade due to being associated with the employee.
Because the incident happened outside of work is immaterial as it can still bring the company into disrepute and clash with a company’s values. This doesn’t just apply to calling someone a black c**t at a football game, it can apply to attending EDL or other far right demonstrations or making derogatory statements online.
Any employer who does not reprimand staff for being involved with race -related conduct could face grievances from staff who disagree with the conduct and reputational damage from customers and the (non-tabloid) media.