Arsenal have released a statement from Granit Xhaka in which he acknowledges his actions on Sunday were disrespectful to the supporters and he explains the incident as he experienced it. There is a good deal to unpack here. I encourage you to read the statement and think about it for yourself before reading my analysis below.
Is it an apology from Xhaka? Again, I encourage you to decide for yourself.
I think it is.
Even though it looks similar to an “I’m sorry you felt that way” non-apology, it isn’t. He’s not saying the fans were wrong to feel disrespected. If you read it all together, I think he is essentially saying “What I did was wrong and disrespectful, I didn’t mean to wrong or disrespect you, and I’m sorry if I did.”
It’s not lost on me that his statement / apology is specifically directed at “the group of fans that support our club, our team and myself with positive energy” and not at fans generally. Given some of the abuse he cites, I have no problem with the limitation. But I can see how that might push up against what some people feel is their prerogative as a fan to be critical.
The things he cites are never okay. Physical threats against a player and wishing harm on his family is WAY beyond the pale. And in light of that, I completely understand his reaction as he came off the pitch. That doesn’t necessarily make his actions acceptable, but it definitely informs them and my opinion of them.
The comments make me sick. They are vile. They are hateful. They are disgusting. There is no excuse for it. Full stop. Unfortunately, I can’t say I’m surprised by it. Sports can bring out the absolute worst in people, and some people really, really suck.
A common response to bad eggs like that is to say “they’re not real fans.” It’s the same response we see to instances of racist abuse from supporters. By othering, we try to distance ourselves from the behavior. It’s a way of passing the buck and sweeping the problem under the rug.
But it is our problem. Those people are fans of Arsenal Football Club. We need to recognize that they exist. They need to be called out, shamed, made uncomfortable, and reported. Report them to the platforms they use to spew their hate so they can have their accounts shut down. Report them to the club so that they can be banned from attending matches. It’s not enough to say they aren’t part of our community. We need to take concrete steps to ensure they are driven and / or thrown out.
It’s my personal hope we take Xhaka’s closing sentiments to heart — that we get back to a place of mutual respect and can put this behind us. I don’t expect that to happen overnight. Repairing a relationship takes time. Granit Xhaka has extended an olive branch.
It’s now on each of us to decide if we want to accept his apology and move forward.