I very rarely follow football, it’s not a staple watch in our household. So, it must have been quite the social hype to get us as emotionally invested as we ended up being. The growing euphoria around these young athletes who were breaking boundaries and offering the nation something exciting and unique, offering us all a sense of hope and unity. How could we resist?

So, come Sunday we were rushing home to ensure we made kick off. Snacks and drinks in hand – let’s go boys, BRING IT HOME!. 

These young men left it all on the pitch, heart and soul and the majority of us felt their energy transcend through our screens. Their performances were nothing short of brilliance and we could not have felt prouder (win or lose).

But what goes up, must come down and we were swiftly smacked in the face by the reality and further evidence of division in our country. We saw Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho & Bukayo Saka receive a rampage of soul-destroying racial attacks across social media. A reality check that you are part of this nation. Until you are not.

I can only imagine the pressure felt on the shoulders of those young boys.

Athletes have spoken of the lifelong effects of missed opportunities in major sporting tournaments. The difference here is that these young boys not only had to factor those natural pressures in, but also carry the burden of what could happen to them because of the colour of their skin.

One of the most heart-breaking moments for me over the last couple of days was my partner’s immediate response to Marcus Rashford’s missed penalty. She remarked, without batting an eyelid, that this young man was in for a traumatising backlash of racial abuse. A horribly sobering thought.

When I saw the following missed penalties, my heart sank for three young Black men who were about to experience further hatred and racism in their career on a scale that just didn’t bear thinking about. In that moment I wished I could have wrapped them up and protected them from what, I can only imagine, would have been some of the hardest days of their young lives.

The screen can no longer be perceived and excused as being just a “virtual world”. It is driven by human beings and has real life impact and consequences. Something we have seen time and time again.

So, whilst it is true that racism is amplified on social media, it’s more than just social commentary; it’s damaging and criminal and we need ACTION. What penalties will the trolls of the internet face? We need our Government and social media executives to take responsibility for what happens on their watch.

However, it is also for each and every one of us to take responsibility. I personally felt this reading Marcus Rashford’s heartfelt open letter last night. We should be doing everything in our power to be antiracist – to actively oppose racism, in all forms.

The optimistic side of this whole series of events is that I truly believe there is more good in this world than bad. In the hours and days that followed those penalties we have witnessed an outpour of support for our young players in a bid to drown out the hate.  So perhaps that is a big part of the fix and something we can intentionally build into our everyday, through continuing to actively demonstrate allyship and love louder than the hate. The generations to come depend on the effort we choose, or fail, to put in now.

By Sandra Hernandez, Talon Outdoor.

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