Exclusive: Marvin Bartley urges footballers in Scotland to take a knee and defy the racists
Marvin Bartley expects the vast majority of footballers in the country to defy the racists and take a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement when the new football season gets underway on 1 August.
But the Livingston captain warns that the gesture has to have meaning and should not just be a fashion statement.
In recent pre-season matches in France, Rangers and Celtic both endorsed the powerful message being sent by sportspeople around the globe in the fight against racial prejudice.
Steven Gerrard’s squad came under fire from some of their own fans for doing so, forcing the club to issue a strong statement condemning the criticism and telling those who do not stand against racism that they are not welcome at Ibrox.
That unequivocal approach was welcomed by Bartley, who said it was “scary” that people still held such narrow-minded views but he said that the majority should not be cowed by the vocal minority and should instead work even harder to inform and educate.
“I was reading through it and thinking flippin’ hell, is this the world we are living in? It’s disgusting.
“Sometimes I just wonder if these people are just saying that on social media because they are looking for a reaction but there are too many people for that to be the case. So some of them actually believe what they are saying and that’s the bit I don’t understand. I can’t understand how someone can think that way.
“Some of the comments are people saying ‘I’m getting bored of this now, can we not move on?’ And I’m like ‘hang on a minute, I’m also bored, bored of being racially profiled and people judging me as something less than others because of the colour of my skin’. So when people say ‘I’m bored’ and ‘enough’s enough’ after just a couple of months, I’m sorry but try being one of the people who spend their whole lives on the receiving end of the stuff you’re bored of after only a few months.”
As it stands, the SPFL have said they will not force players to take a knee, but have admitted that the matter remains under discussion ahead of the new season.
Show Racism the Red Card have appealed for a widespread show of support, though, and Bartley believes they will get their wish after players were surveyed by PFA Scotland.
“They sent something out yesterday asking if players would be happy to do it. It was unanimous from our club and I would imagine it was the same across the board.
“If some clubs or players say they are not going to do it then I am not sure how that will go down but people have to have the freedom to decide that for themselves.
“Taking a knee isn’t a fashion statement, it has to mean more than that so if someone doesn’t support it then they shouldn’t do it but I would be disappointed and I would be asking their reasons because it is all about dialogue and looking at every point of view and trying to use that conversation to understand and educate people and, hopefully, change minds for the better.”
The multicultural nature of the game has already helped open the eyes of those Bartley has played with, who had little contact with minority groups growing up and were almost deaf to casual racism. But football friendships have raised awareness of the human consequences of prejudice.
“That shows you that a lot of it is ignorance and it shows that football can help.
“We know that there are some people out there who will never be educated but football has a massive platform and can hopefully reach a lot of people who can be swayed. At our club everyone has bought into it and they understand the situation. It has gone past the point where people can convince themselves that it is not that bad or that it doesn’t happen here.
“Stuff has been happening around the world and if we look at social media, we can’t kid ourselves, it is still happening here and it is not acceptable.
“We need to do something about it, on the pitch and in the stands, where we have to be better at self-policing. Those who maintain it’s not a problem are the problem.”
But while some people are overtly against such a show of sporting unity, Bartley believes it would be remiss of football to pass up the opportunity to use its extensive appeal to offer support to the BAME community and educate those who are not directly affected. Although, he accepts there is probably no quick fix.
“If players taking the knee encourages kids to ask why we are doing it then that’s when the education process starts. I am not silly enough to think that racism can be stamped out in a month or even a year but we can start to educate future generations right now. We might not see a huge difference in the next 10-15 years – although it would be great if we did – but hopefully the kids who see us take the knee now and ask questions and learn how racism affects people, they will go on to have their own kids and educate them and that is how we improve things. By taking a stand now, we can inform each other and learn what we all can do to make things better.
“I don’t have all the answers but I am reading up and educating myself and I do think this is something we should all be supporting. Despite the worst of what we read on social media I think the majority of Scottish football will.”
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