EPL can’t force players to play: Neil Humphreys
Vulnerable footballers should not be ridiculed for making informed decisions
Troy Deeney stands alone as a brave spokesman for a sensitive issue that really is skin deep.
Deeney is four times more likely to die from Covid-19 than, say, Jamie Vardy.
Both are English strikers. One is black, the other white.
According to the United Kingdom's Office for National Statistics, black people are more than four times as likely to die from the virus as white people.
Indeed, black people face a greater risk of death, even if existing health conditions are removed from the equation.
So Deeney has refused to participate in phase one of the English Premier League's "Project Keep Cash", the eager attempt to avoid reimbursing TV companies for cancelled matches.
Project Restart kicked off on Tuesday, when players returned to training in small, isolated groups. Deeney stayed at home.
He has a five-month-old son with breathing issues. Two worrying boxes are already ticked in the Deeney household.
His club, Watford, have returned three of the EPL's six positive tests, with defender Adrian Mariappa and two staff members infected. That's a third unwanted box ticked.
Should Deeney be castigated for not wishing to tick any more?
The 31-year-old isn't a pampered coward hibernating in a mansion, but a black father of a baby born with respiratory concerns. He's read the statistics. The odds are not in his favour.
Since Watford's three positive tests, several other players reportedly supported Deeney and refused to turn up for training yesterday, in keeping with the farcical response to Britain's lockdown.
As Deeney pointed out, a haircut is out of the question until mid-July in the UK, but he will be expected to bulldoze his way through a penalty box filled with sweaty bodies. It's utterly absurd.
There are also faint echoes of one of sports' darker historical trends, when exploited black boxers risked their well-being for the entertainment of exclusively white and wealthy audiences.
Muhammad Ali ridiculed the lopsided racial hierarchy within his sport and Deeney's protest hints at a similarly uncomfortable issue.
Non-white footballers are essentially being expected to expose themselves to a greater health risk, on behalf of mostly white club owners.
Since the EPL began in 1992, the proportion of players from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (Bame) backgrounds has doubled.
According to talkSPORT research, Bame footballers made up 16.5 per cent of starting line-ups on the opening weekend in 1992.
By 2017, when the research was published, the proportion of Bame footballers had risen to 33 per cent. The figure is presumably even higher now.
Among the 20 EPL clubs, incidentally, there are no black owners. But Bame footballers now make up around a third of all EPL players.
And black people, remember, are more than four times as likely to die from Covid-19 in the UK.
Deeney isn't another entitled footballer lost in a bubble of privilege, but a potential trailblazer for co-workers that have stayed silent for long enough.
Since the first Covid-19 cases in the UK, EPL footballers have been convenient targets for an unsteady government and easy targets for cash-obsessed owners, without really doing anything to justify the relentless attacks.
Apart from the odd idiot visiting a sex worker, the overwhelming majority have donated generously to charity, invited strangers into their homes, via Instagram, to maintain a connection with supporters and offered nothing but hope.
Footballers accepted each government and industry recommendation, no matter how confusing or erratic.
In essence, they did as they were told, while the EPL scrambled to play catch-up with the Bundesliga.
But it's apparent that Germany remains well ahead of the UK in terms of planning, personal protective equipment, testing and infection control, and players - particularly non-white players - are understandably jittery.
Deeney's critics focus on his salary, before turning to the popular cliche of choice - if essential workers have to keep calm and carry on, why can't rich footballers?
The clue is in the question. Footballers are not essential workers. As much as we revere our idols, we wouldn't want them anywhere near an intensive care unit.
Footballers entertain, but no more than that. Health risks should be minimised or avoided altogether in a contact sport.
If Deeney and others follow the statistics and choose to put the lives of loved ones ahead of a relegation battle, then that must be their prerogative.
Non-white players have the numbers in every squad now to ensure their voices are heard in predominately white boardrooms.
For owners, Project Restart is about money. For employees, it's about choice.
Players like Deeney will forfeit their last pay cheque as long as they can have the last word.