James Shield's Sheffield United Column: A bright idea about a very bleak issue

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“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Lutherian pastor, theologian and anti-Nazi dissident, condemned to death by an SS judge and then hung at Flossenburg concentration camp on 9th April 1945; a fortnight before soldiers from US infantry divisions liberated the site, near the German border with Czechoslovakia.

First, I’ve got a confession to make. The thrust of this column, the main suggestion I’m going to make, is nicked.

I pinched it from a mate called Richard during a WhatsApp conversation about an event at Sheffield United this week. Or rather something that was posted on social media, that well-known arena for reasoned debate and intelligent political discourse, about one of Chris Wilder’s players. I’m talking, of course, about the racist message sent to David McGoldrick via his Instagram account following Saturday’s win over Chelsea - a match which saw him score not once but twice, ending his 16 year wait for a first Premier League goal and propelling United to arguably their most famous win of the campaign so far in the process.

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Rich, for me, came up with a good idea about how best to deal with the perpetrator who, at the time of writing, was being hunted by South Yorkshire Police. It could easily apply to others who, probably because their own lives lack any sort of meaning, feel compelled to send this type of s***e - (let’s call it what it is) - in an effort to wreck those of others. Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha has also been targeted by this type of sad individual of late.

What my pal proposed, after surmising correctly that appeals by celebrities and glitzy campaigns pushing messages of peace, love and equality will never have the desired effect, is that anyone found guilty of abusing others over the internet should be subjected to a special type of process. As well as appearing in court - even if it is one for juveniles - they should be compelled to publicly explain why they did what they did. In front, not only of the victim, but also their own extended families.

"Personally, that's what I'd do," Rich said, noting how the cloak of relative anonymity these sites provide, and the lack of proper personal interaction they provide, can make people feel braver than they actually are. "They should be made to sit there and tell everyone what made them do it. If they stand by what they sent?

"And if they don't, why they thought it it was pkay to send it in the first place?"

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“It would be bloody excruciating," Rich continued. "Well, if they’ve got anything about them it would.”

The "Black Lives Matter" slogan on the back of Sheffield United shirts: SportimageThe "Black Lives Matter" slogan on the back of Sheffield United shirts: Sportimage
The "Black Lives Matter" slogan on the back of Sheffield United shirts: Sportimage

Admittedly some people don’t. Which is why, whether we like it or not, we’ve just got to accept that society is never going to be perfect. That doesn’t mean we should simply ignore discrimination, bullying or other contemptuous forms of behaviour. Quite the opposite in fact. But those fighting the good and fight also have to be aware that even those who agree with the central thrust of their argument might not necessarily think the same about some of its nuances.

The Black Lives Matter campaign, and the attempts of some of those on board to broaden its manifesto into areas including economic reform, is a perfect example of this. The mud slung at those who support its key principles but don’t want, for instance, to dismantle capitalism does nothing to further what is essentially - ignoring the precious outrage and pointless attempts to pick apart the slogan - a noble cause. The same can be said about a few communications, sent to fans questioning aspects of a project designed (quite rightly) to show solidarity with McGoldrick and roll back against the bigots, by other members of United's following. The sentiment behind the cause is right. In order for it to resonate properly, however, a small number of those involved would do well not to allow their passion to get the better of them by giving the impression they are accusing folk of being rabid fascists when, quite clearly, they aren't.

Doubtless even suggesting as much, even though regular readers will already have a pretty good idea about my political leanings, will put me in the firing line. So just to place on record that both myself and many of my relatives have done more to tackle things like racism than those who shout loud about it on platforms like Twitter and Facebook, possibly make a few banners and massage their own egos, but do very little else. But that’s another story I’d be happy to tell anyone who wants to listen over a pint.

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Football doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Even though it might like to think so at times. So it isn’t up to ‘supporters’ to tackle the type of behaviour McGoldrick and Zaha have been subjected too. It’s up to people instead. The best way of dealing with those who push beliefs such as this inside or outside stadia is to confront them square on. Then, in polite but forceful terms, tell them to stop. If they don’t, or the response is aggressive, it becomes a matter for the authorities. Admittedly, this isn’t the easiest course of action. But, given the alternative is silence, it is the most effective. As Rich pointed out.

David McGoldrick of Sheffield United celebrates with teammate Enda Stevens: Peter Powell/Pool via Getty ImagesDavid McGoldrick of Sheffield United celebrates with teammate Enda Stevens: Peter Powell/Pool via Getty Images
David McGoldrick of Sheffield United celebrates with teammate Enda Stevens: Peter Powell/Pool via Getty Images

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