Bukayo Saka, Arsenal and England’s 19 year old star, has been noticeably absent since missing the heartbreaking final penalty of the Euro 2020 final, and few could blame him. In what has become a depressingly expected reaction, Saka, as well as fellow England players Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford, were subjected to a deluge of disgusting racist vitriol across social media following England’s penalty shootout loss to Italy. Despite their tireless efforts and successes with the Three Lions, an old sporting axiom prevailed - when they win, they are British; when they lose, they are black.
After several days of reflection (and an incredible outpouring of support and love from all corners of the sporting world), Saka released an emotionally-charged statement today in the wake of the ugliness that followed England’s loss last Sunday.
First and foremost - What an incredibly poignant and well-composed statement. None of us can fathom what he has endured, but his words ring out with a gravity and solemnity that, true to Saka’s character, speak to a maturity beyond his years. Arsenal fans watched the Euros with pride as the rest of the world learned what we have know for two seasons now - Saka is a special player and person. His statement is nothing less than a perfect reflection of that.
From the start, a sentiment of gratitude and thankfulness resonates throughout his words, as he gives praise to his teammates, family, and supporters in the wake of the final. After being unfairly blamed for England’s loss, Saka’s focus on the positives keep the piece from being a dour reflection on what felt like a failure to many England fans, instead focusing on using the tournament as a springboard to even more success for the Three Lions in the future and an opportunity to share his pride in representing his nation.
At the heart of Saka’s words is a powerful condemnation of the racism he and his fellow England teammates were subjected to. The quote, “I knew instantly the kind of hate that I was about to receive” following his missed penalty is an emotional gut punch that, unfortunately, many of us expected, too. Saka’s indictment of the social media platforms that have fallen short on keeping racism and hate speech off of their sites is not the first by an athlete of color, but certainly a statement that bears repeating until meaningful action is taken.
To date, at least five people have been charged with hate speech following the final. It’s a start, but falls far short of the seemingly countless commenters who resorted to reducing the value of Saka, Sancho, and Rashford to their skin color.
At just 19 years old, the future is unbelievably bright for Saka, but traumatic moments like this can snowball and severely impact a young talent. Countless players have been undone by costly mistakes and defined by their failures (see: Southgate, Gareth). However, Saka appears determined to not let the vileness of bigots diminish that shine. His emphatic statement that, “I can promise you this…I will not let that moment or the negativity that I’ve received this week break me” is not a threat - it’s a promise.
The abuse that Saka, Rashford, Sancho, and too many players of color have experienced is a harsh reminder of why players continue to take a knee and use their elevated platforms to speak out against racism and bigotry. For every collective two steps forward, there will always be those determined to drag us a step backward, but if there is anything we have learned, it’s that hate cannot be beaten by hate. We at the Short Fuse support and will continue to stand in solidarity with players and fans seeking to drive out prejudice and intolerance to make sports the inclusive place it deserves to be.
As Saka, and many others, know: “love always wins.”