Black, British and wealthy: Why does the British press love Anthony Joshua but despise Raheem Sterling?
When you’re black, British and wealthy, the media spotlight will be on you. Depending on how you behave, you will receive one of either two types of treatments from the media: one of contempt or one of praise. No other two people better encapsulate this than Raheem Sterling and Anthony Joshua.
Even as we approach the end of the year, Raheem Sterling can’t seem to catch a break.
Firstly, there was the whole uproar around the MI6 assault rifle tattoo on Sterling’s leg, drawing criticism from the media and absurd demands from anti-gun campaigners that he should have it lasered off.
Then came the World Cup in July. Despite Sterling’s stirring efforts in Russia, England fans and Jose Mourinho himself condemned him for another goalless performance for the England Squad.
Raheem Sterling’s year couldn’t get worse, right?
On December 8th, the attacking midfielder received a torrent of abuse at Stamford Bridge from Chelsea's fans during Man City's 2-0 loss to the hosts.
Now let’s look at Anthony Joshua.
The British mainstream media have lavished Anthony Joshua with so much praise and goodwill, he recently retained the world heavyweight title, that at this point he could accidentally punch the Queen and the media would legitimately laugh it off. Recent press stories have focused on Anthony still living with his mother in his flat or his humbling mid-life crisis now that he’s heavyweight champion.
And make no mistake, Anthony Joshua doesn’t have a squeaky-clean past. In 2011, the GB boxing team suspended him for possessing cannabis with the intention to supply. But his history has not affected his ‘golden-boy’ reputation with the media.
So why is the British media so harsh to Raheem Sterling but so love in Anthony Joshua? After all, they’re both black, British and wealthy.
A Black British man’s wealth must always measure up to his performance
To be clear this post is not about football racism and why racism is still an issue for black footballers in 2018. And while this does play a role in how the tabloid press treats sterling, more qualified people than myself have examined that particular issue.
Instead, this post is examining how performance, humility, and class are massive factors in how wealthy black British people are treated by the British press – which is mostly made up of British, middle-class men.
I like Raheem Sterling. He's a bit younger than me, but he's like most of the boys I played football with in my local park growing up. But, to be honest, his ignorance surprises me.
Raheem Sterling accused the tabloid newspapers of racism because of the negative way in which they reported a story about a black footballer buying a house for his mother. This story is in contrast to the more positive light the same paper published about a white footballer, from the same team, buying a house for his mother. Sterling has made an acute observation on how the British press reports on wealthy black men and wealthy white men, but it’s a lot more complicated than the British media ‘fuelling racism.'
It’s no secret that ethnic minorities in Britain, especially black people, have to work twice as hard in general to succeed due to racial bias. This unspoken expectation doesn’t just disappear just because you’re a footballer.
Even though I personally feel Raheem Sterling is a highly skilful footballer, a significant and vocal group of football fans and many of the white middle-class journalists in the media think Raheem Sterling has not worked hard enough or accomplished enough in their eyes to justify his football wages and lavish lifestyle. But this alone isn’t the full picture. Young black footballers like Danny Welbeck have been criticised for underperforming but don’t’ face anywhere as near as much media backlash as Sterling.
What gets the British media riled up about anything Sterling is his ostentatious displays of wealth, particularly on social media. Do you remember, in 2016, when he showed off his crystal-studded sink after many criticised his performance against France? In general, the white British middle-class and, by extension, the British media, do not like the wealthy flaunting their wealth. It is in bad taste made worse when they don’t even feel you deserve it.
Now we can probably blame some of Sterling’s colorful displays of his fortune on the fact that he comes from a working-class background. From my experience, working-class black boys often need to overstate their wealth with eye-rolling displays of luxury to illustrate to their detractors and admirers that "they've made it." I understand it because it's what rich Black American athletes do and black Americans have always been a role model for black British working-class kids because they’re so visible in the media. Just take a look at Floyd Mayweather’s ridiculous Instagram account. But America loves its loud black athletes because everything in America is loud. Not the case in Britain.
To the average white middle-class and middle-aged journalist, Sterling is acting like someone who does not appreciate his wealth and, more insultingly, his refusal even to show humility when he has underperformed, in their minds, is a big factor as to why the British press constantly have their crosshairs aimed at him.
If your rich and black, you better learn to eat humble British pie
Although slightly older than Sterling, Anthony Joshua, by contrast, understands the subtle relationship between wealth, blackness and middle-class Britishness. Unlike Raheem Sterling, Anthony Joshua has eaten that humble British pie.
Having won the heavyweight title, Anthony Joshua could easily post pictures of himself eating caviar from a diamond-encrusted plate while receiving a shoulder massage from a bikini-clad model. But he doesn’t. Anthony Joshua understands that to win and keep favour with the British media; he must show himself as a humble and thoughtful athlete. Loud and lavish won’t make you friends with the British press if you're black and wealthy.
It’s funny because Anthony Joshua grew up working class like Raheem Sterling, but unlike Sterling, Anthony Joshua has an acute understanding of how he ‘should' behave, so he doesn’t invite criticism from the media.
"To the average white middle-class and middle-aged journalist, Sterling is acting like someone who does not appreciate his wealth and, more insultingly, his refusal even to show humility when he has underperformed, in their minds, is a big factor as to why the British press constantly have their crosshairs aimed at him."
Despite facing a jail sentence in the past, Anthony Joshua has managed to craft an image of himself as a wholesome, hardworking and skilful athlete who still lives with his mum in their humble flat despite rolling in riches. Even if this image is disingenuous, merely a persona that has been carefully crafted by Anthony Joshua’s PR and brand team, he has not strayed from the narrative, and it feels sincere and genuine to his character. Even if he were to lose his next bout, Anthony Joshua has built up so much goodwill with the British media, that it would not tarnish his reputation.
Raheem Sterling does not have the same goodwill from the British media because he hasn’t built the persona of a grateful and humble black British working-class kid who is now rich.
Being black and wealthy in America is different than being black and wealthy in Britain
As I mentioned earlier, black American athletes or black American celebrities are allowed to be loud and brash with their wealth. America is a country of noise, bright colours, and big personalities and this is also inherent within its media.
Middle-class British culture and the middle-class British media are opposed to garish displays of one’s wealth. It’s dirty, unwelcomed and even insulting.
So, if a black working-class boy, like Raheem Sterling, shows off his lavish lifestyle on social media while underperforming in the eyes of British sports journalists, it is not surprising that the British press snaps at him like blood-thirsty piranhas. To them, anything Sterling does, like having a gun tattoo on his ankle, invites criticism and scorn.
Sterling isn’t so much a victim of racism by the British media, although I’ll concede that this plays a part. But also, it’s because his attitude to wealth and humility is at odds with how the British media expect its wealthy, black British men to behave.
If you look at Anthony Joshua and other wealthy black British men outside sport like actors Idris Elba and John Boyega who are adored by the British media, what’s the one thing common between them?
They’ve never posted a video of their jewel-encrusted bathroom on social media.
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