The Sun has done this sort of thing before.
Written overtly racist and mean-spirited copy, that is.
It’s the paper that splashed “GOTCHA” on its front page when the English sank an Argentine ship in the Falklands War in 1982, killing 323 men. It’s also the paper that vilified and blamed the Liverpool fans after 96 of their brethren were killed in the Hillsborough Disaster in 1989, when a stampede broke out for which the victims bore no blame – police misdirected the crowd and then covered up its mistake.
The Sun stood by its false claims, including assertions that the surviving fans had been drunk and terrorized medical personnel, for decades, before it was finally forced to apologize.
Before, in between, and after those monstrous stories, the Sun racked up an endless rap sheet if insensitive, inappropriate and, sometimes, intolerably cruel coverage. It has paid out endless libel settlements, yet remained England’s biggest paper year after year.
At any rate, the editor of the paper during the Hillsborough days was a man called Kelvin MacKenzie, who was also responsible for the “GOTCHA” headline. Now 70, he remains at the paper as a columnist.
On Friday, the Sun ran yet another grotesque column beneath his byline that took aim at Everton and England midfielder Ross Barkley. It was a passage of such unfettered and unapologetic racism that the English police is investigating it. (Most European countries have limitations on free speech that make the willful and harmful spread of hate speech and racial slurs a crime.)
MacKenzie’s column is a series of riffs on various gossipy news items. Among them, (as you can see here, in an archived link dug up by Deadspin) beneath pictures of Barkley beside a gorilla and a “Heres [sic] why they go ape at Ross” headline, MacKenzie takes an unprovoked swipe at one of England’s most promising young players. Barkley, at 23, has already appeared at a World Cup and a Euro for his national team, and he’d been in the news for taking a punch in a night club.
It’s important to note that Barkley has a Nigerian grandfather and is therefore of mixed race.
“Perhaps unfairly, I have always judged Ross Barkley as one of our dimmest footballers,” MacKenzie began. “There is something about the lack of reflection in his eyes which makes me certain not only are the lights not on, there is definitely nobody at home. I get a similar feeling when seeing a gorilla at the zoo. The physique is magnificent but it’s the eyes that tell the story.”
Then MacKenzie insults Liverpool and Liverpudlians some more, for no particular reason.
The Sun has since cut the Barkley passage from the column and suspended MacKenzie indefinitely. As if it suddenly has a conscience after spending the last 36 years employing the man and profiting from his hateful methods. And neglecting the fact that it still published the thing and that no columnist acts completely on his own.
English police is investigating the column as a possible racial slur. And the outrage has rightly been enormous.
The Sun remains the United Kingdom’s best-read paper with a daily circulation of almost 1.6 million.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.