Ignorant replies prove why pride of Leeds United Kalvin Phillips' refusal to stick to football, like Marcus Rashford, is important - Graham Smyth
“I’m proud of my Jamaican heritage,” began a tweet from Leeds United midfielder Kalvin Phillips, on October 6.
“In honour of Black History Month I’ll be supporting Show Racism the Red Card, the UK’s largest anti-racism educational charity, in their fight to challenge misconceptions, stereotypes and negative attitudes in society,” he carried on.
His words were accompanied by the symbolic image of him kneeling on the pitch, fist in the air.
For SRTRC, an organisation nearing its 25th birthday, the support of a Premier League and England international is cause for celebration.
“We’ve always had a good relationship with Leeds United,” Ged Grebby, CEO of SRTRC told the YEP.
“In the past we’ve brought 250-plus kids into Elland Road for a Q and A with current pros and ex pros. We have loads of ex-Leeds players who are patrons, like Chris Kamara and Brian Deane,” he said.
“In this different world we’re in we can’t go into schools or get young people to meet players direct, but we’ve put a call out to Premier League players to get involved in our campaign as we take it all online.
“We said if you’ve taken the knee, don’t just leave it there, make sure you contribute and he’s one of the people doing that.
“In the two tweets he’s put out, the engagement has been much bigger than what we’d normally have.
“We would love to have him involved with our campaign, not just for the month, and we’re very keen to link up with him.”
SRTRC have been ‘overwhelmed’ with support since the death of George Flloyd on May 25, an event that led to protests all over the world and anti-racism demonstrations in football.
Leeds, in both the Championship and the Premier League, have taken a knee before games to show their solidarity with English football’s attempts to make clear their anti-racism stance.
Phillips, along with team-mate Tyler Roberts, has not been content to leave it there, using his social media platform to speak out about an evil that still blights the lives of black people in this country.
Leeds’ game against Wolves was dedicated to the Premier League’s No Room for Racism initiative, prompting a response on Twitter that suggested all this anti-racism stuff is ‘tiresome.’
Imagine how tiresome it is for Phillips and Roberts to keep seeing responses like that? When Phillips tweeted about SRTRC there was a deluge of positive replies from proud, supportive Leeds fans that almost, but didn’t quite drown out a smattering of ignorance and whatabouttery that proves 'all this anti-racism stuff' is still very necessary.
Imagine how much more tiresome it must be for Phillips’ family and friends, including Roberts himself, to experience not just microaggression and profiling in their daily lives but actual abuse for the colour of their skin. It must be exhausting. It must be suffocating.
“If you’re racist then that’s not going to change,” said the aforementioned Twitter user, who also correctly pointed out that Leeds had fielded many players of colour, and that education on the issue begins at home. But in some homes that education is evidently not happening.
And accepting that racism will continue is simply not an option so Phillips’ brave, selfless decision to put his face and a blossoming career at club and international level right behind Premier League initiatives, SRTRC and Black History Month should be supported and applauded, in the same way that Marcus Rashford’s fight against child poverty is to be lauded.
‘Sticking to football,’ is not their way and more power to them.
Black History Month celebrates the achievements of black people and Phillips has already done the city proud.
Thanks to Covid it feels like a lifetime ago, but it’s almost exactly a year since Phillips scored one of the most fitting goals in the club’s existence, netting a winner in the centenary game at Elland Road.
A local boy being such an integral part of the team who took Leeds back to the Premier League was enough to write his name in the club’s folklore. England caps mean he’s a treasure Leeds now share with the nation.
Celebrating such achievement should not be limited to Black History Month, but it’s an opportunity that should be taken. Phillips’ history is Leeds history.
He’s English, Jamaican, Leeds and proud. He’s the pride of Leeds.