Thierry Henry, one of the greatest footballers in Premier League history, announced today that he will remove himself from social media to protest the scourge of racist, abusive, often anonymous messages hurled at Black players online.
The 43-year-old Frenchman, who is of Antillean heritage, called on “the people in power” to start monitoring and regulating their platforms with “the same vigour and ferocity that they currently do when you infringe copyright.” Earlier this month, the English Football Association (FA) called on social media companies to begin identifying accounts on their platforms.
A growing number of top English league players — including Patrick van Aanholt, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Axel Tuanzebe, Romaine Sawyers, Alex Jankewitz and Lauren James — have all been victimized by racism in 2021 alone.
As ESPN reports, this isn’t the first time Twitter has had to address this sort of thing. In 2019, the platform spent two weeks removing over 700 accounts devoted to “abuse and hateful conduct.” It’s likely, though, that the cowardly displays of hatred have multiplied over the last 10 months, as sports leagues, including the EPL, have introduced public antiracism efforts; Premier League players currently take a knee before matches, and wear “No Room for Racism” badges on their sleeves.
This message of unity apparently upset at least one fan so much, he rented a plane and flew a “White Lives Matter” sky banner over a match between Manchester City and Burnley last June. If bigoted fans feel empowered enough to pull off a stunt like that, it’s little wonder they feel comfortable making burner Instagram accounts.
Henry has fought racism for a long time. In 2004, the coach of the Spanish national team, Luis Aragonés, was speaking to his player José Antonio Reyes (who played professionally with Henry at Arsenal), and referred to Henry as a “black shit.” In response, Henry launched the Stand Up Speak Up campaign with Nike, which sold black and white wristbands in an effort to raise awareness for racism across the game. Henry donated $6.5 million to 238 different projects.
Aragonés was never sacked, though. He was given an opportunity to lead the Spanish team to gold at Euro 2008, and the press forgave and forgot. It’s easy to see why Henry is so exhausted. He wrote this morning: “The sheer volume of racism, bullying and resulting mental torture to individuals is too toxic to ignore. There HAS to be some accountability.”
Henry plans to come back online only if the tech giants stop granting anonymity to their most hateful users. And the day the striker returns — hopefully sometime soon — will be a better day for us all.