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'Sterling shows now is the time to stand up and be counted'

SUPERSTAR STERLING: The England and Manchester City player is Dotun Adebayo's Man of the Year

RAHEEM STERLING is the Man of the Year. If you have been following his comments about the British media and how it feeds racism against us you'll know why it wasn't such a difficult decision. At the age of 24 (just turned) he has taken on the might of the British establishment on his own and got it licked simply, morally and intellectually. You have to wonder why other black footballers are not following his lead and, not only coming out and supporting him strongly, but also getting up and standing up for their rights too.

Let's not forget that Raheem's also the most gifted footballer of his generation. The £300,000 PLUS he earns a week means nothing to me but for the youngers coming up, they must look at that and think, "Rah, racism or no racism, it is possible for any of us to be the best paid employees in our chosen professions, as long as we work hard for it like Raheem".

And, boy, look how hard he has worked for it. The 24-year-old has started to make Messi and Ronaldo (bless 'em) look like senior citizens. And while England relies on Harry Kane for goals, it depends on the Man of the Year (and Etihad player of the month for November), to dribble rings around everybody else standing between Kane and the ball.

Cast your mind back to the World Cup in Russia in the summer and you'll see how Raheem pretty much carried a relatively average England team to the semi-finals of the tournament. But he barely got praise for it. If England had beaten Croatia in that World Cup semi-final, I would like to have seen anybody give that Ballon d'Or to Luka Modric instead of Raheem.

Instead of praise, Raheem suffered the opprobrium of the media ahead of the tournament for a simple tattoo that ran vertically down his leg of a semi-automatic rifle pointing at his boots. In explanation we were told that he was sending out a message to all the yutes out there, particularly the yutes that look like him, that they too can substitute their feet for a weapon. It made complete sense to me. Especially as he, on a daily basis, probably lives with the trauma of having lost his own father to gun crime. But the press was not having it. It was determined to have another pop at English football's boy wonder with its spin on the story, which suggested that at the very least it was inadvisable of Raheem to have such a tattoo given the levels of gun crime and knife crime among our yutes and, at worst, that he was propagating the violence with a tattoo that was actually some sort of coded gang message - bad bwoy stylee.


POWERFUL: Sterling has used his platform to make a strong statement about racism

Raheem is made of strong stuff though. If you've followed his career from the age of 17 as a first team player at Liverpool of all places, you will know that. I remember how he became the darling of the Kop at Anfield and was so well known in the city he could not sneak into a single bar there because he was underage and everybody knew it.

In those days he was sporting dreadlocks and I hoped that the hair wasn't just a fashion thing, but that it signified what it once upon a time signified - a certain consciousness. You cannot tell nowadays, with every other black footballer sporting locks like it's going out of fashion, whether they are in the least bit aware or interested that it's not just a style. There is power in dem there locks (as long as you keep 'em away from "de-lie-lah"). Raheem does not need locks to show his "consciousness" however. And he's become even more militant as a baalhead.

In fact, Raheem Sterling has become one of the most conscious or, if you prefer "woke" black celebrities in the country. (As you can tell I'm really proud of him and how he has represented for us all.) Just look at the way he has dealt with the issue of the racism he endured from the usual morons at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea beat Manchester City in the Premier League on Saturday December 8, which also happened to be his 24th birthday.

Instead of ranting and raving – as some sections of the press would love – he elevated the conversation about the abuse black players suffer from so-called football supporters by stating that the media have to take some part, if not a large part, of the blame. He argued that the way the media portrays young black men in general fuels a lot of the racism he and every black player faces from the terraces. That statement has resounded so much that you wonder why no other black footballers have pointed out the obvious so blatantly.

Sterling points out, for example, the stories of two of his football colleagues - one black and one white - and the way they were individually treated when they used their earnings to buy a home for their mums. Whereas the white footballer was seen as having done something noble, the black player was ridiculed.

That is how racism works. That is what gives permission to yobs on the terraces to throw banana skins at black footballers. There is no point in Lord Herman Ouseley trying to kick it (racism) out of football unless he takes the media to task. And until we have the power to hold the media responsible, we cannot hope to change the negative narratives that are told about our lives every day.

Until the media stops demonising us in all its subtle ways, we will struggle as a community to build our businesses, to succeed in schools, to bring up our families and to seize the time of our lives. It doesn't mean we cannot succeed unless the press amends its pernicious bias, simply that we will struggle as they have such power. But they are not more powerful than our superstars like Raheem Sterling combined. That is why now is the time to stand up and be counted. That is why Raheem Sterling is the Man of the Year. He has shown the way at the age of just 24-and-two-days.

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