Jeez, the British press really have it in for Raheem Sterling don’t they? From his most dismal to aspirational endeavours, the 23-year-old forward somehow always manages to put his newly-inked foot in it.
Think back to when he got recalled for the starting XI before England took on - and lost to (presumably his fault) - Iceland at Euro 2016. How a certain broadsheet stuck a timer among the copy showing how much Sterling had earned in the time they had been reading.
Or when he returned home from France to a brand-spanking new house complete with a jewel-encrusted bathroom which he had the gall to buy for his mother, who had fled Jamaica with her three children to a London council estate when he was five.
Let’s not forget all the occasions Sterling flew with EasyJet, or ate at Greggs. They too were met with more derision than you’d like to think. When the lad was papped shopping at Poundland, newspaper proprietors across the country lost their collective minds. How dare he alternate between spending his money and being careful with it? Call me facetious, but it’s almost as if Raheem Sterling, a young successful black man, cannot win.
Today, the jarring saga of Sterling vs. the Red Tops has only increased tenfold thanks to a tattoo of an M16 assault rifle down his right leg. The body art has been called ‘totally unacceptable’ and ‘sickening’ among countless other cliches.
On a personal level, I find this tattoo as harmless as those lines David Beckham got sheared into the side of his head, if not his 2002-era mohican. It’s true, footballers are lionised beyond imagination in the eyes of young kids, but I have more belief in today’s lot than to think they’re gonna see that green M16 and think, ‘Hmm, I’d love to buy a gun and shoot people.’
It seems more likely they’ll go through a minor phase of tattoo FOMO, dig a biro out of the kitchen drawer and try replicate it on themselves before washing it off hours later.
This isn’t the early noughties. A large number of kids will be following Sterling on Instagram, and thus expose themselves to the digestable explanation he gave for getting the tattoo. If he says it’s a tribute to the horrors of gun violence, his young adorers will lap it up. Hell, if Sterling told them to consider animal welfare a little more, they’d probably become vegan quicker than you can say ‘chickpea’.
Sure, maybe he could’ve decorated his leg in a epitaph instead, but that’s none of our business. It plays no part in our lives or how good a shift he’ll put in on the Russian stage.
What bothers me and others about seeing the sneering tabloid hatchet job on Raheem Sterling as if his lifestyle was tantamount to sub-human levels of sh*thousery, is that it just simply isn’t true. To our knowledge we don’t know if the guy steps on innocent spiders or berates random tweens in YouTube comment sections, but what we do know is that in 2016 Raheem Sterling became an ambassador for the Greater Manchester High Sheriff’s Police trust, a charity which provides support and funding to community initiatives such as Picnic in the Park, Stretford Sea Cadets, We Stand Together and Manchester Boys and Girls Clubs. So accusations of glorification can be nipped in the bud right there.
Despite this, he’s aware of the public perception. ‘I’ve got that face. You know when you see someone on TV and go, ‘I don’t like him?’ Some people have that face and I’ve got it. I can’t do anything about it,’ he told The Guardian last year.
Sterling continued, ‘I’ve just got face: he looks like a brat. The ‘I don’t like face’. That’s how I see it. And I’m not a brat. Sometimes I’m watching a movie and you see a character and go, ‘I don’t like him’ – that’s me.’
Piers Morgan, for example — a torchbearer for those hellbent on making sure non-binary people don’t get their own cubicles — has suddenly become the purveyor of a frothing, Gammon-like rage over this whole thing. You can’t help but laugh that with someone’s simple stint on a tattooist’s chair he has outed himself as the most darling little snowflake. Like Morgan said, he’s taken umbrage with other celebrities that’ve gotten similar tattoos, but as was quickly pointed out, the fact that certain someone was Zayn Malik doesn’t exactly help matters.
I think, I think, if your own father was killed by gun violence you’re granted carte blanche to express an opinion on the topic more than, say, anyone who hasn’t.
Judging by the overwhelming evidence of Sterling being chastised for both his ‘showy’ and humble personal life – a damned if you do, damned if you don’t prison within the British press – I don’t hesitate for a second by implying this entire furore is an issue of prejudice. Shame on those who indulge it.