Utter the words “Jamie Vardy” to any football fan and the responses are predictable. The Leicester City striker’s profile as a footballer and success story has proliferated exponentially this season.
A series of memes appear perpetually after each Leicester City win or Vardy goal. One such meme chronicles the 29-year-old’s rise to the Premier League.
“Jamie Vardy was released by Sheffield Wednesday when he was 16 years old… He went to earn his living in a carbon fibre factory.
“Five years ago he was playing in the eighth tier of English football with Stocksbridge Park Steels earning £30-a-week.
“Three years ago he was playing for non-league side Fleetwood Town earning £850 pounds a week.
“Now he is the Premier League’s top scorer.”
This particular meme is outdated. Vardy is no longer the top scorer in the Premier League. This honour belongs to another former Leicester City forward, Harry Kane. Kane and Vardy both found themselves on the score sheet for England’s 3-2 comeback win against Germany on Saturday.
Scoring against the world champions only served to further the mystique of “everyman” Jamie Vardy. The aforementioned chronicle of Vardy meme has been updated to include this particular milestone. Little of the furore, that has sometimes bordered on a cult of personality, has mentioned an uglier truth.
Alongside being the second most prolific goalscorer this season, Vardy is also, in the opinion of this writer, a racist.
One may be surprised to learn this. Vardy has been instrumental in propelling Leicester City to the precipice of a Premier League title win. His story of rejection and redemption is uplifting, yet it is disquieting how few people are willing to acknowledge, or even entertain the idea that he is not a hero.
On July 26th 2014, Vardy was playing poker at a casino. During one hand Vardy took notice of an Asian man standing behind him. Irritated by the possibility that the man could see his cards, Vardy launched a racist attack. CCTV footage from the casino captures him saying:
“Jap. Yo, Jap. Walk on. Walk on. Oi, walk on. Yeah you, Jap. Walk on.”
Vardy apologised in the aftermath of the incident, labelling his behaviour as “appalling”. The extent of the 29-year-old’s punishment was a club mandated education course. The incident has long been forgotten by many if not most football fans.
Before the debate arises, this journalist wishes to pre-empt any debate on whether “Jap” is a racial slur. It is. In 2011 the Spectator newspaper used the phrase “white-coated Jap bloke” in a March 26th article. This off-hand use of the word prompted the Japanese Embassy in the UK to write to the publication.
“I point out that most Japanese people find the word ‘Jap’ offensive, irrespective of the circumstances in which it is used,” said Ken Okaniwa of the Embassy of Japan when writing to the Spectator.
“I find the gratuitous use of a word reviled by everyone in Japan utterly inappropriate.”
This should settle the matter.
Following the 3-1 defeat for Chelsea at the hands of Liverpool in October 2015, Youtube channel Neeks Sports interviewed fan Clive O’Connell. Basking in the late autumn sunshine in Fulham, O’Connell began a vitriolic rant aimed at Liverpool fans.
O’Connell, a lawyer for international law firm Goldberg Segalla, repeatedly refers to Liverpool fans as “scouse scum”. O’Connell’s appearance on social media prompted Goldberg Segalla managing director Rick Cohen to release his own video statement.
“His words are offensive, plain and simple,” Cohen said.
“His conduct doesn’t rise to the standard to which we hold ourselves and for these reasons we have terminated our partnership with Mr O’Connell, effective immediately” (via Goldberg Segalla).
So if teachers, politicians, and indeed lawyers, are held accountable for racism and intolerance, why is Vardy the exception?
The Football Association likes to promote its “zero tolerance” approach to racism in English football. In 2012 Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore, speaking to a parliamentary inquiry into racism in sport said (via The Guardian):
“I am absolutely confident that English football’s record of dealing with this is good.
“Look at the reaction to it. It’s being dealt with. I am proud we’re in a country where there was that reaction. It’s a lot better than in other countries.”
Yet there has been no reaction to Vardy from the FA. “Zero tolerance” is FA-speak for zero action.
Anyone who has been a victim of racism, or indeed any dehumanising behaviour, cannot sit comfortably with the hero worship of Vardy. His apology was limp at best. His statement following the incident read (via the BBC):
“I wholeheartedly apologise for any offence I’ve caused. It was a regrettable error in judgement. I take full responsibility for and I accept my behaviour was not up to what’s expected of me.”
Racism is not a mistake and “Jap” is not simply a word. If we have learned anything in Europe over the past two years it is that there is a link between hateful language and violence. The “hero” Vardy reduced another human being to something not human in public.
His words do not simply disseminate into the air. Vardy’s actions show others that it is OK to abuse another person. Most importantly, the FA and Leicester’s reactions show the world that a limp apology and a fine atone for racism, when you can score goals as well as Vardy does.
When Leicester City released their statement, they concluded it with:
“The club will make no further comment on the matter, which it now deems to be closed.”
In other words, we have moved on to more pleasant matters, now you should too. Vardy’s Wikipedia entry devotes a whole two sentences to the matter. Two sentences are also devoted to Vardy having his name on the Stockbridge Park Steels main stand and limited edition packets of Walker’s Crisps.
Similar to the situation with England Rugby’s Joe Marler, the Vardy saga reinforces the perception that racism is simply a nuisance that gets in the way of work. Vardy’s hero worship is symptomatic of a real problem in our society.
Selfishly, we do not care about the moral conduct of those who gratify us. So to those who create and propagate the cult of Vardy through memes on social media, ask yourself: should we celebrate racists for sporting achievements while at the same time whitewashing their comments?
Dáire O’Driscoll, Pundit Arena