The Acerbi Debacle: The Price of Not Punishing Racism

The democratic ideal of "innocent until proven guilty" has always favored those with wealth and perceived or real power. In cases where it is one person's word against another, the person harmed often did nothing, and is left with the burden of proof against the person who harmed them. This has always been true of racial abuse, particularly in Italy, where ignorance about what racism even is continues to be the norm. We saw this play out yet again these past two weeks after Juan Jesus reported that he was subjected to racial slurs from Francesco Acerbi on the pitch. On Serie A's "Keep Racism Out" weekend of all weekends. (This is not the first time that has happened in Serie A, either.) People with wealth and power (particularly those who are white) insist that it is unfair to punish someone based on one man's word. What they do not seem willing to admit is that Juan Jesus was already punished much worse by one man's words. And by not punishing Acerbi, that punishment has become exponential, both for Juan Jesus and other people of color. That is the price of not punishing racism.

Another white male (who happens to play for Inter) gets away with racial abuse.

Acerbi avoided punishment due to a "lack of evidence." Perhaps if Acerbi shared those racial slurs on social media, there would have been some evidence, maybe even enough for the investigators in this case. In some countries and some industries or countries, that kind of infraction online could actually cost a person their job or even their career. Which is what some people claimed might have happened to Acerbi if he was punished for what he admitted to saying.

However, the reality is that he would likely be given a minimum ten match ban, which is what the rules say is supposed to be the punishment for racial abuse. Even at that, he likely would have been able to appeal it and have the ban shortened. But sensationalists insisted that Inter would use the incident as an excuse to terminate his contract. And that punishing him would damage his career. So definitely, let's protect the racist. Not to mention that he plays for Inter.

The protocols were followed. He was heard. He was supposedly believed. But there was still no justice.

But what about Juan Jesus? Anyone who has ever suffered any kind of discrimination knows that racism is not just words. It is impossible to feel safe when others are abusing you. And Juan Jesus did nothing to deserve this abuse. He followed the protocols and reported the abuse. Only to have his abuser go unpunished by the system that is supposed to protect him. 

Those who are racially abused often suffer from higher rates of depression, substance abuse, other mental health disorders, and even suicide. And with incidents of racism, those risks extend to other people of color, especially those who have experienced similar abuse. Even though the person did nothing, and they were abused for something they have no control over and cannot change.

A gentleman and a racist.

But sure, good thing the white guy who racially abused the person of color wasn't punished and his job and career are safe. While I understand the pervasive fears that people have of punishing innocent people, or having people take advantage of the system to get innocent people punished, those fears are not backed with data like the actual effects of racism are. 

Racism really does hurt people, and when the perpetrators get away with it, whether it is because they are white, powerful, play for Inter, or there is a "lack of evidence", or whatever lame excuse Italy uses each time, the harm from racism continues to perpetuate and hurt more people. It hurts the person abused. It hurts all people of color. It hurts other minorities. It hurts everyone who is aware of it, and it continues to harm Serie A, too.

Theo Hernández will serve a suspension for this celebration, a dedication to Brahim Díaz.

So, while Theo Hernández serves a suspension this weekend after a bogus yellow card over a misunderstanding by the opposition manager during a goal celebration, Acerbi will be free to play after racially abusing Juan Jesus. Which he acknowledged, apologized for, and thn changed his story back and forth throughout this debacle. Some in the media actually tried to humanize him because of his past battles with cancer to help him avoid punishment, despite his vile behavior in this circumstance. That he himself acknowledged with an apology.

Acerbi actually won the Cartellino Viola award, recognition given for fair play, in 2012, the season before he came to Milan. But joining Inter has changed his character completely. This year alone, he has elbowed Kastanos in the neck, shown the middle finger to Roma Ultras, insulted Thomas Henry after a missed penalty, and now this. All without a single suspension. See what happens when you go to Inter after playing at Milan?

My how the good character person has fallen after playing at Inter.

Napoli have brilliantly stood up for their player and said they will not participate it Serie A's ridiculous anti-racism campaigns. Their Ultras put up a banner pointing out Serie A's hypocrisy. Perhaps most importantly, Juan Jesus made a powerful statement, which was shared on the official Napoli site:

Juan Jesus, in his own words...

"I have read, several times, with great regret, the decision in which the Sports Judge determined that there is no proof that I was the victim of racist insults during the Inter-Napoli match on March 17. Although I respect the decision, it is an assessment that I struggle to understand and which leaves me with great bitterness.

I am sincerely disheartened by the outcome of a serious matter, in which I am only guilty of having acted 'like a gentleman,' avoiding the interruption of an important game with all the inconvenience that it would have caused for the spectators watching the match, and trusting that my attitude would have been respected and taken, perhaps, as an example.

After this decision, those who find themselves in a similar situation will probably act in a very different way in order to protect themselves and to try and put a stop to the shame of racism, which, unfortunately, is struggling to go away.

I do not feel protected in any way by this decision, one which struggles between having to admit that the 'proof of the offense has certainly been achieved,' and maintaining that there is no certainty of its discriminatory nature, which, again, according to the decision, that only I, 'in good faith' would have perceived.

I really don't understand how the phrase 'go away black man, you're just a ni***r...' can be considered offensive, but not discriminatory.

In fact, I don't understand why there was so much fuss that evening if it had really been a 'simple offense,' one that Acerbi himself felt obliged to apologize for, and the referee felt he had to inform VAR. The match was interrupted for more than a minute and his teammates were struggling to talk to me.

I can't explain why, only the next day, and in the national team training camp, Acerbi began a U-turn on his version of events, rather than immediately denying what actually happened after the match was over.

I didn't expect an ending of this kind, which I fear - but hope that I'm wrong - could set a serious precedent to justify certain behaviors later.

I sincerely hope that this sad story for me can help the entire world of football to reflect on such a serious and urgent issue."

–– Juan Jesus

Maignan also followed protocols, but Udinese also appealed and got out of their ban.

Yet another Serie A player making a statement after not only being racially abused, but not being protected by Serie A. How many times have we been through this? Racism in Serie A is so much more than skin deep. We saw some good things happen with the protocols when Maignan was abused in Udine this year, but eventually, they got out of their stadium ban, too. In Serie A, when it comes to racism, racism is the only real winner.

While Inter get advantage after advantage financially and on the pitch, not being punished for racism is universal in Serie A. The perpetrators are always given the benefit of the doubt, or simply not punished, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. Meanwhile, racism not only particularly punishes all people of color, but society as a whole, too. And the lack of punishment retraumatizes the experiences of those harmed and increases their suffering, creating an environment where they cannot feel safe or protected. They are perpetually punished while their oppressors never are. That is the price of not punishing racism.

This post inspired by the music of Rage Against the Machine's "Killing In the Name"

Our next match is 
Serie A Week 30
Fiorentina vs. Milan
Saturday, March 31, 2024 • 20:45 CET (3:45pm EDT*)
*note the time difference due to Daylight Savings Time in the U.S.

The Acerbi Debacle: The Price of Not Punishing Racism The Acerbi Debacle: The Price of Not Punishing Racism Reviewed by Elaine on 10:15 AM Rating: 5
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