Leeds United striker Tyler Roberts on how he plans to tackle racism in the game and society
A Leeds United footballer who arrived at Elland Road less than two years ago as a teenager has since secured himself a place as a senior international.
However, striker Tyler Roberts, who has bagged goals in 23 games in Leeds’ championship 2019/2020 season, has confessed that he tackles harder and spends money in shops after experiencing racist abuse and stigma.
Roberts, now 21, has spoken exclusively to the Yorkshire Evening Post as we shine a light on racism as part of Black History Month.
Roberts, who has just returned to Leeds after playing in Wales’ victory over Bulgaria earlier this week, revealed that it was while on international duty some years ago that he had his first face to face racist experience - and it is something he is now constantly aware of.
He was in Belarus playing for Wales in an under 17s game and was in the hotel lift with some team-mates having some banter with the Belarus squad - until it turned heated.
Roberts said: “We stopped at a floor and the Belarus players were there. I was the only black lad and we were having some football banter between the two teams and one of the players started making monkey noises. Their team laughed. That was the first time I had really experienced it face on.
“I was in shock because I was so young. Obviously I knew about racism but never expected it to happen. I thought it was something that had been going on for years but not something that was anymore - until that moment.
“It kind of puts you on your own and you feel like everyone is looking at you. It is a horrible feeling to have and very belittling.”
He says there was not much he could do other than report it and play it out on the pitch with a few strong tackles.
Roberts was born in Gloucester and moved to Birmingham when he was 11 as he started playing for West Bromwich Albion. His parents were both born in the UK and his grandparents are of Jamaican heritage.
Roberts moved to Leeds when he was 19 after signing for the club but was already enjoying an international career with Wales due to his mum being half Welsh.
Off the pitch though, and in everyday life, he says racism can be subtle and he feels it is embedded in the mindset of some people.
Roberts explains: “I can’t recall a time where I have experienced it up here (in Leeds) but there are a lot of subtle things that you notice. When you go into shops, if you look a certain way, and obviously I like to dress like a young person, I feel that because of my colour you get ‘opinions’ all the time.
“If I go into an expensive shop and I am not known, there is an eyebrow raised and you do notice these things. I have been with my dad and we have both noticed it so I am not being paranoid. I laugh it off but even in these places and I can afford it, it is a ‘stick it’ up to them when I do buy something.”
This kind of subtle racism, says Roberts, is passed down by generations and while it cannot suddenly be eradicated, he says it needs to be stopped before it is passed to the next generation.
Education is key as are movements such as Black Lives Matter and Black History Month - of which he is a supporter of both.
“My family is very strong about it and passionate about Black Lives Matter and Black History Month. Now that I kind of have a bit of a platform where I can reach certain people, my mum and dad say if I can change one person’s mind or opinion - I have made the world a better place. If there is a chance for me to do that - that is something I would like to.
“If it never gets talked about, if somebody does it (a racism act) it is not a complete wrong. I feel like it is still awkward for people to talk about racism. It is something that has happened, it should not be a light topic, it is something we should be open to talking about and hear people’s opinions, especially in schools.”
Roberts himself was not taught in school about racism and, for many years before, there has been a lack of teaching in schools about slavery and colonialism.
This is something he is keen to address and The Premier League yesterday also launched the next phase of its No Room For Racism initiative which sends the message that the League and its clubs will not tolerate racism.
Fans are being urged to challenge and report racism wherever it takes place and players, including Kalvin Phillips have taken part in a video which calls on supporters to ‘Challenge it, report it, change it.’
The League is also launching a series of new educational resources where players talk about their own experiences of racism and the impact that it has had on them. Tyler Roberts features in this too and they will be available to more than 18,000 primary schools in England and Wales through Premier League Primary Stars. The resources will also be made available via the Premier League Kicks and Inspires programmes.
One of the first schools he will be engaging with is Kirkstall Valley Primary via a Zoom call with teachers and children next week as part of a project with the Leeds United Foundation.
He added: “When Black Lives Matter happened, there is a lot that has been done like players taking the knee, and that is a good thing, but a lot of things have been said, things have been brought up but nothing has changed or been implemented because of it.
“People high up have to make a difference. If there is a scheme where I can talk to people in schools, or anybody really, to educate or give a view of things or use my voice….for me, personally, that is a nice feeling but you have to get to the right audience and the people that need to hear it.”
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