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Strength of character, family, team: Abraham on dealing with racial abuse

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The young Chelsea striker also calls on Twitter to act

Chelsea FC v Sheffield United - Premier League Photo by Visionhaus

The starting center forward for Chelsea Football Club is not a job for the faint-hearted. Many — far too many, in fact, but that’s a story for another day — have succumbed to its pressures, expectations, demands, many of which can be unreasonable, overstated, and overanalyzed.

But for young Tammy Abraham, Chelsea’s latest, newest No.9, that’s just the beginning. Not only is he very young and thus carrying a big part of the load for Chelsea’s nascent youth revolution, he’s also very, well, not white. And that shouldn’t matter, and we’d like to think it doesn’t, but evidently, that’s not the world we’re living in. Abraham was just one of several high profile black athletes racially abused, online or off, in the first month of the season — Chelsea teammate Kurt Zouma included after his unfortunate own goal two weekends ago.

Abraham himself was surprised by the volume and viciousness of the abuse, but he’s not letting it get to him. As he tells the Mirror’s (and apparently CNN’s) Darren Lewis, the only reaction he’s willing to show is on the pitch, by scoring goals — which he’s done brilliantly ever since that penalty miss in fact, with four goals in his last two games.

“I never ever thought with my generation growing up, it would still be happening now. I think we just have to stay strong. To be fair, there’s a lot of people supporting us, from different cultures, different races. I think if we all just stay together there are a lot of campaigns will have an impact. It won’t stop everything but it will have an impact.”

“You’re always going to get it now and again in certain countries but no, I didn’t think it would be an issue in our day and age. Kurt is similar to me, he’s a strong character.”

“They do it with fake accounts and all sorts. So the only advice I would give [to players] is to just block it out. Let the football do the talking. They want a reaction. [But] you just try ignore it as much as possible.”

-Tammy Abraham; source: Mirror

It can tough to ignore and rise above it all. It is designed to get a reaction, at the very minimum, after all. Some can laugh it off. Others will break. Tammy credits his family, as well as his friends and teammates, and his own strong character, in helping him deal with the abuse.

“When I was going through the abuse, my dad kind of laughed it off and said: ‘Listen, son, this is nothing. This is nothing to what we’ve been used to, you know, this is over social media. ’It’s different when people are saying it to your face, so this is nothing to worry about. This is a minor problem, you’ll come through it strong.’ That’s always nice to hear, especially from your parents.”

“I remember speaking to my mum, she was emotional, she was in tears. You know, she’s just thinking: ‘Why him? Why him?’ It’s obviously not nice to hear, especially seeing your son getting abused.”

”For me, I’m always a strong character, it doesn’t affect me as much. But saying that, it could affect people who don’t have my personality. It was a challenging moment for me, I went through a lot of emotions.”

“I had a lot of abuse but Frank Lampard always had his arm around my shoulder, lifted me up. Straight after, the boys, manager and everyone at Chelsea had my back. [...] It’s nice to have that support behind you when you’re going through times like that.”

-Tammy Abraham; source: CNN

Abraham is lucky in that sense, to have such strong support around him, and to be able to not let these sorts of things get to him. All professional sports players need to have thick skins to a certain extent of course, but abuse (racial or otherwise) well above and beyond reasonable criticism is unfortunately far too prevalent these days.

The trouble in dealing with attention-seekers is that even negative attention can be enabling. But ignorance can only get us so far. Blocking, banning, and muting are half-solutions at best. The need for a stronger response is quite clear, from anyone and everyone, including the social media platforms giving voice to all the worst, most shameful corners of society. Abraham understands this as well, and is the latest footballer to call Twitter to action.

“[Missing a penalty/Scoring an own goal] just gives everyone an excuse to go online, behind their laptops, behind their phones, to say what they want. Some people might not think we see it, but we do see it — and they just want to get reaction.

”So Twitter needs to understand that. They talk a lot about cyber bullying and in a way that is, that is bullying over social media. I think some people just don’t think footballers are humans, that they have personalities. We are humans, we do see it and it does affect us. Now Twitter needs to do something about it.”

-Tammy Abraham; source: CNN

Even then, Twitter creating and enforcing strong policies is only a start and only part of the solution. We all have to do our part in helping to cleanse our world of this rot.