Racism and hate crimes are on the rise in the UK, according to a new report.
Racial abuse ‘happens a lot more than people think’ is a headline that starts off the article. The article goes on to talk about how racial abuse happens, and what can be done about it. Read more in detail here: usmnt.
The US men’s national team won the CONCACAF Nations League final 3-2 against Mexico in June. It was a memorable moment for U.S. Soccer, as it lifted the title at the cost of its main opponent.
But there were many more stories about what happened after that win: defender Mark McKenzie was subjected to racist abuse on social media. In the last month, there have been many more instances of this sort, including racist abuse directed towards Black England players after their Euro 2020 final loss to Italy.
McKenzie talked with ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle last month about the Mexico game, the frequency of racist abuse, how he’s trying to raise awareness and fight racism, and much more.
(Editor’s note: For length and clarity, this interview has been modified.)
ESPN: How are things going with you?
McKenzie: It’s just a part of the job, right? When you compete in high-stakes situations as a professional athlete, there will always be eyes and ears on you. Things take place. I try not to [dwell] too much as a young player… Everyone makes errors, and as a defender, those mistakes cost you more than others. So, when playing against Mexico, I make a poor pass that results in a goal.
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We were reprimanded as a result, and all eyes were on me to see how I would respond. So, in retrospect, you can always wish things had gone differently, but I try to make the best of it because it’s a learning experience for me in terms of understanding the situation, how to deal with certain situations, and ultimately determining if I had the fortitude, resilience, and character to really fight, to really put myself back into a situation.
I was able to hold my own, but I made another error. These are the kinds of errors that will be highlighted and emphasized. It now reads, “Mark McKenzie isn’t capable of playing at this level. He isn’t cut out for the national team, and he isn’t ready to participate in these crucial matches.” “Look, the pace, the rate at which people will adore you is the same rate at which people will hate you, and criticize you,” my father said. So take it with a grain of salt, since some people would never be able to play in your shoes. They’d never be able to cope with what you’re going through.
At the end of the day, I am familiar with myself. I’m aware of the kind of player I am. I understand that one error, or even 63 seconds, does not define me. I’m well aware that I have a very high ceiling that I’m just beginning to scratch. There are still certain aspects of my game that I need to work on. So, as I demonstrated throughout the match, I’m not claiming to be this well-rounded, ideally slated player. And that’s something I’m looking forward to: pushing myself to go into that room and ask myself, “Where do I need to improve?” and raise my game even higher. So, once again, it’s been a learning experience for me, and I’m grateful and fortunate to have had the opportunity to play in that scenario, in a CONCACAF final for my national team.
ESPN: After the excitement of winning the Nations League, you go on Instagram and find some racist remarks aimed at you. Is it something that happens all the time?
McKenzie: It occurs much more often than most people believe. And people will say — and I will continue to use the broad word — “People get the impression that I was writing about these racist remarks and racial slurs like, “Ah, it’s not a big issue,” because I don’t want to say it’s one person or another. It’s just a remark.” But I believe we’ve arrived at this position because, when something occurs, we instinctively want to get it over with as quickly as possible [and] avoid having to deal with the reality that this is a long-term problem. This is an issue that will not be addressed until it is brought to our attention. We get complacent, lazy, and it is no longer a priority when we push it to the back of our minds.
But why is it that when these remarks and insults appear, it seems to be an issue when we publish them? Why is it that when we have these problems in our culture that revolve around race, racial sensitivity, homophobic insensitivity, or whatever issues we’re dealing with, when you write about it, it becomes, “You guys keep doing the same thing, you know. It’s just a remark.” Yes, but why do we keep going back to it if it’s simply a comment? Why is this still a problem in [society]? Why is it that this is still a prevalent topic that we come with on a daily basis? If it isn’t made a priority, it will just become a part of our daily life, right? So, in my opinion, my writing about it is not intended to draw attention to these individuals, but rather to inform us that this is still going on.
I’m working on some remarks right now “You should hang yourself. You’re a jerk who has no place on the national team, “There’s this, there’s that, and then there’s that. All in the span of 60 seconds, and in a sport for which I have dedicated my whole life.
In a sense, I’m entertaining tens of thousands of fans with my teammates, then the other team. This is something we’re doing because we like the game. As a result, we’re entertaining a lot of other people. But the minute anything occurs that you can’t control, something that you don’t like, it becomes a problem “Pick this person out and go after him hard. [Alive] eat him.”
Man, we’re also people. That was my main point, not to emphasize the error, but to emphasize the reality that this is a frequent occurrence. It’s one thing to criticize my game — I realize I made a mistake, I’ll learn from it, no problem — but it’s another to go after someone for something so demeaning, to use demoralizing remarks and slurs that make people feel belittled. It’s a long distance. You may criticize my game all you want, but don’t insult my family or myself because of my color. It’s pointless. It’s a total waste of time. Let’s keep thing where it belongs and stay in the game without going too far.
ESPN: Do you believe people believe you’re dealing with it for the first, fifth, or tenth time, rather than the 500th, 1,000th, or 10,000th? Do you believe there is a lack of awareness about this?
McKenzie: Yeah, I think because I try not to oversaturate my media channels with these problems because I think it may get overwhelming for folks at some point. Isn’t it true that people can only take so much? They can only take in so much at a time. So, when the time is perfect, I choose that moment, I work hard at it, I let it sit and soak, so that others can really understand where I’m coming from. This resonates with me on a level that will be helpful. And if I keep doing that, people will eventually get used to it and say things like, “You’re going too far with this.” But that’s unfortunate since it’s occurred to me more than 50 times.
ESPN: What do you do after a game?
McKenzie: I’ll receive texts after the games. This is a frequent occurrence. It’s a terrible fact, but it’s the truth. We’ve seen this before, and I’m not the only athlete at the camp who got racist insults and racially inappropriate remarks after the game. So, again, I don’t want to overwhelm people, but I also want them to realize that this is something that happens on a daily basis, and it’s a more frequent topic than you would think. This is also only one example of many. I could have received 100 more comments for the same competition that I didn’t write about. So it’s about realizing that this is a wake-up call: Let’s not get too comfortable, because the minute you do, you’re leaving the door open for more. That’s why you understand how critical it is for us to keep fighting.
Following the United States’ Nations League victory against Mexico, Mark McKenzie received racist abuse on social media. Getty Images/Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire
ESPN: To what extent are initiatives with the national team or Black Players for Change still ongoing, and how difficult is it to remain connected to those activities while you’re away from home?
McKenzie: It’s tough because the time difference is plus-six hours, dude. It’s tough since the meetings are scheduled for 7 p.m. [ET], yet it’s nearly 2 a.m. where I am. I still talk to people in MLS about the problems, about ideas, and about how we can keep pushing things forward and putting pressure to these concerns.
Not just in our game, but also in society, it’s still going on. Also, I’m becoming more involved in Europe, looking for ways to contribute to the advancement of these problems that [we] still confront in Europe. Let us not forget that, in the same manner that racism exists in the United States, racism exists in Europe as well. After games and such, there are still remarks. Let’s not forget that Reggie Cannon was going through it in Portugal a few months back.
Connecting with my colleagues and other companies throughout Europe has also been crucial, in my opinion. As a result, we may now establish a link between the two universes. Now you may combine concepts or devise new approaches to problems, since occasionally one approach will not enough. But, in my opinion, you may have struck the nail on the head, or you may have gotten an idea from this viewpoint that now prompts the resolution of a problem in this area. So there are a lot of avenues for us to connect. So I believe that having established a life in Europe as well as having a life in America, as well as working with many countries, has given me the capacity to operate on both sides. It’s critical that we continue to have these discussions from the other side of the Atlantic.
ESPN: To what degree have your white teammates in Belgium, as well as previous colleagues in MLS who are white, sought out to help carry some of this burden?
McKenzie: They’ve been really supportive, but they’ve also been quite active in trying to find ways to be engaged when these problems occur. One, having genuine discussions with my squad back in MLS, the difficult ones, since this is where it all began, in the locker room, talking and hearing tales from people you care about, people you deal with on a daily basis. And they are uncensored tales, not filtered stories that may sometimes be presented in a different manner, but unfiltered stories that will make you feel emotionally. That, I believe, is where it all began.
They’ve also been involved in the community, contributing to resources that will allow others to hear and learn. [My colleagues] came to me and expressed a strong want to learn about people to talk to, whether it was at the Boys and Girls Club or local resources to help those in more challenging circumstances, such as those in inner-city neighborhoods. What can I do to assist with the construction of this bridge? What can I do to make these people feel like I care about them? How can I make these students feel like it’s genuine, that we’re having a real conversation rather than talking to a wall? How can I really participate? I don’t want it to be simply me coming out and talking to my folks and then disappearing. I want to be the person that kids can confide in and who can send them a text message “Hey, I’m going through some things right now. Are you able to communicate?” For me, it was true. That, in my opinion, is a great way to become engaged in the community.
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So I was talking to my father, who is a karate instructor and a former cop, and he described both scenarios to me. One, how these inner-city youngsters have a hard time spotting the cops, and two, how the cops simply want to go home [every day]. To deal with those situations, and then how I’m working with some local people here in Delaware to create that, and wanting to have the opportunity to bridge that connection between the community and law enforcement, because I have family in law enforcement, but I also know people who have had bad experiences with law enforcement. So that’s something I’m attempting to improve.
It’s in your face and extremely common in the United States. As a result, I believe that many of my white colleagues, teammates, acquaintances, and friends have been extremely receptive to dealing with the difficult circumstances and discussions. Then there are my colleagues in Belgium, who make up a really varied locker room. So I’m presenting my American viewpoint, as well as some of the perspectives that I’ve heard from my European colleagues about how they’ve been impacted, and how the kneeling in England has elicited booing from fans and supporters, which is precisely why they’re kneeling.
ESPN: With kneeling in mind, how did you react to England and Ireland players being booed earlier this summer for doing so?
McKenzie: I believe that’s one of the reasons we’re kneeling. For me, I didn’t want it to simply become a part of the pregame routine; I wanted it to have meaning, and the booing have re-energised that meaning, reinforcing why the kneeling is so essential and why the activism can’t be stopped. Why do we have to keep our foot on the pedal with these issues? Because when it becomes a commonplace, and you feel like it’s becoming a formality, and you see it all the time, it gets overwhelming. People will let you know when they’ve had enough of seeing it. But that’s precisely the point at which you must withdraw and say, “Hey, don’t forget.”
So, yes, I believe the entire England issue has been handled very well. It’s another another wake-up call for many individuals to reconsider their beliefs. You support the national team, but do you support the national team’s Blackness? Is it making you feel uneasy? Is it unsettling to have a national team speak out against situations or topics with which you disagree? If this is the case, it is for this reason that you should begin to wake up.
Is social networking worth it, according to ESPN?
McKenzie: To be honest, there are times throughout the year when I completely detach from it because it is so much. It’s a fantastic method to connect with people you haven’t met before, as well as persons, networks, and existing business connections. On the other hand, we see the tough side of social media, the bad side, and how it can be a sad, overpowering reminder that many people still don’t understand that social media is meant to be a unifying force. I had colleagues who completely erased their profiles and accounts because it was too much.
Herculez Gomez discusses why the USMNT hasn’t wowed him thus far in the Gold Cup.
You may delegate your social media to people in your agency or whomever, but it’s meant to come from you. It’s meant to be a reflection of you as a player and a person, and you want to be a part of it. On the other hand, it may be excessive since if you spend too much time on it, you may wind up finding things you don’t want to discover. It’s a challenge. It’s a tricky one.
As a result, I make an effort to detach from it. And I believe that everyone should do so. I believe we now spend much too much time on our phones. We should have a look around. Work has slowed us down to the point that we feel compelled to remain connected at all times. But, at the same time, it’s critical that we remind ourselves of everything that’s going on around us, that there’s a lot more to life than this little 7-by-3-inch gadget, or laptops, iPads, or whatever it is. I have a lot of gadgets. Man, I’ve had my iPad next to me. For what, exactly?
I cannot emphasize how essential it is for us to remind ourselves of the things that are really important in our life. And that, at the end of the day, we won’t be able to persuade everyone to agree with us. It’s a challenge. It’s tough for me to say; in fact, it’s difficult for anybody. Everyone isn’t going to like you, and that’s a fact of life. So why waste time attempting to impress individuals who may or may not like me when I have all I need here in front of me? I’m attempting to persuade someone in another country to enjoy the fact that I play for this club, have a Nike deal, and go to Hawaii. Man, have fun in Hawaii. Take pleasure in your journey. Take pleasure in the fact that you can do what you like on a regular basis. Remember that each day is a gift, and I believe that my time here has taught me how to appreciate it. It will be full of ups and downs. It will be accompanied with hardship and tough circumstances. However, I have all I need. I’m fortunate to be able to say that, and there’s a lot more going on than just on social media, so wake up a little.
ESPN: Was it difficult for you to transition from the United States to Belgium, given the George Floyd trial and the recent protests?
McKenzie: I agree that it was a lot to process. Just because I see that and think to myself, “What if it was me?” That’s the most common topic I hear from individuals who inquire about the issue. Then to have everything happen and then to go, with plenty of time to think about how I might be even more engaged, how I could assist even more. But there was a lot of it. In that short frame, there was a lot to take in, and COVID was no exception. So it put things in perspective for me, since I needed to become even more involved, to play a bigger part. It served as a wake-up call for me, letting me know that I wasn’t doing enough and that I could be doing more. As a result, I attempted to take it and run with it.
I’m extremely sorry, and it has to do with George Floyd’s death and people saying, “He died for this.” He didn’t die because of this. He wasn’t put on the altar for this. We could have done so much more as a civilization, as a human species, on this issue. There have been cases when individuals have died, but what were we doing prior to that to really address the problem and find a solution? He wasn’t made a sacrifice for this. He didn’t have to die, and we could have taken measures to prevent the tragedy from occurring in the first place. And there are a lot of instances in which that person did not have to die for us to intervene.
Unfortunately, following those incidents, we took action for a short amount of time before ceasing to do so. That is why we continue to have these problems, these scenarios that arise. So, I believe that was the most important thing for me, not wanting this to become a trend again, and going through the hashtag. Nobody should be associated with a hashtag. It’s unfortunate that social media has transformed this hashtag into… that’s not how it should be, and it was never intended to be.
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