The Deed is Done

When footage of 27-year-old French and West Ham defender Kurt Zouma emerged showing him kicking his cat, the world went into a frenzy as it rightly should. This was an abhorrent act. Nothing justifies such behavior towards an animal. Nothing at all.

Although as a Black woman who grew up in an African society where cats are majorly frowned upon, I could have wondered about the furore but one of the first things that struck me about living away from my part of the African society was how much-loved cats and dogs were in the UK.

Although I could never understand it, I did accept it.

Does this mean I love cats and dogs? No. I do not. I am simply indifferent. When I am on the sidewalk and see pedestrians walking their dogs, I keep my guard up because no, I do not want a part of it. I have seen cats badly scratch a friend into near blindness. I was once chased by a vicious dog leading to cuts and bruises. I am not a fan of animals. Does this mean I support animal cruelty? Absolutely not.

But Zouma cannot unring this bell and should face repercussions. As expected, the other shoe dropped hours after the video was made public. The sanctions came. First was the club fining him 250,000 pounds, then was the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) taking both cats away from him. Of course, these are appropriate sanctions for the act.

After the cats were taken away, an online petition began making rounds on social media asking people to sign a petition. The petition needed about 200,000 signatures and its aim was to send the Frenchman to jail for kicking a cat.

Another emerged asking for signatures to petition West Ham to sack him.

At this point I began to wonder if I missed something. Zouma kicked a cat which was despicable, and he was sanctioned, so why the chants of jail? Sack? Are these sanctions not becoming too much for the improper action done.

As I began to raise eyebrows at that, Vitality Healthcare withdrew its sponsorship of West Ham after Twitter users tweeted them and some other sponsors of West Ham and Zouma asking for their reaction to the cat-kicking.

After Vitality exited, Experience Kissimmee, a travel company, and West Ham sponsor, pulled out. Adidas also said they were dropping the player.

Then came a quick jolt of realization to a corner of football fans just like me who began to wonder if the hammer was not too heavy for the crime

Vitality argued that West Ham should not have gone ahead to play Zouma in the game against Watford on the day the video was released.

David Moyes, the West Ham coach, had initially commented about this at the pre match conference saying “Yes, he will [remain available],” “The club will sort the rest of it out. I will look after the football side. I’m really disappointed, and the club has taken all the action they can do at the moment behind the scenes. My job is to pick the best team and Kurt was part of that.

Moyes further reiterated his stance as a footballing decision. “I always felt I had to try and separate them and let the club do their side and I’ll do my side which is the football side. I think you are talking to one of the most disciplinarian managers there is. It’s something which we are all really disappointed with, and the club is dealing with it. Kurt is in our first XI, so my decision was to play him.”

This explains one thing. Moyes made that decision to play Zouma. And just like the coach echoed, it was a bad action from the player. The player had apologized. Why then does the world seem unforgiving? Why was this man being persecuted for an act that while condemnable aligns with acts like striking horses in horse racing, poaching and other despicable acts of humans towards animals.

Can these animals also defend themselves? Aren’t they at your mercy too? Or is it different rules for different animals

“YOU CAN’T KICK A CAT”

If you say a cat is a domesticated animal and it is the reason for the upheaval, I absolutely agree with you, but I also have questions. How do we categorize domestic animals exactly?

Oxford English Dictionary defines domestic animals as animals that have been tamed and kept by humans as a work animal, food source, or pet, especially a member of those species that have, through selective breeding, become notably different from their wild ancestors.

Going by this logic, the sheep which is killed for its meat and shorn for its wool is also a domestic animal. The horse that is whipped on racecourses for pleasure and monetary gain is also a domestic animal. Has this outcry not become hypocritical in its entirety?

How exactly is a line drawn on animal cruelty if horsewhipping is allowed? Are not chickens who are killed for burger domesticated?

How has cat abuse become the costliest terrible act committed by a football player in a world where Luis Suarez bites three players and gets a total of 26 match bans or one where Carragher spits at a child and gets to keep his job after apologising or another where Jamie O’Hara punched a teenager. Were these humans not also defenceless? It is interesting how it is calculated by the court of public opinion that kicking a cat trumped all these and should come with a sack

Should we be outraged by cat kicking? Yes. But anyone who is not Vegan, or Vegetarian lacks a lot of moral high ground in this conversation. Are we implying some sins are greater than others? Why are our priorities warped in dealing with issues that matter and how they matter? So why this decision to crucify a man for his actions, one which he has repeatedly apologized for. The cats have been taken away; he learns his lessons. How does a man learn his lessons without resentment when the society is so unforgiving?

RACISM CAN BE EXCUSED, ANIMAL CRUELTY? NO WAY

While people began to have their say on the cat- kicking video, English football coach and former professional goalkeeper Chris Kirkland had this to say on the BBC Breakfast show “Everywhere they go now and everywhere he [Zouma] goes, he’s going to be targeted and rightfully so as well because he deserves everything he’s going to get.

“I’m a big advocate for mental health and obviously need to be careful with what I say because it’s bound to test Kurt Zouma but he’s brought it all on himself by a sickening video.

“I’m still in disbelief that West Ham played him last night, I thought that was disgraceful but again — The FA for me, if it was a racism case, the FA have acted, stepped in and banned players for six to 10 games, fighting six to 10 games — this is worse if anything, what is the difference?”

Kirkland went on to question the lack of interference from the FA, asking “why has the FA not stepped in to ban him for this? It’s beyond disbelief.”

Let me reiterate that as a black person who has seen and experienced all the forms of racism from obvious to subtle, I find these comments sickening, disgusting and racist. A player who brands himself a mental health advocate but is obviously tone deaf to the mental side of Zouma’s health has begun a new widespread conviction from black people that there was a lot more about the Zouma cat kicking that it appears

A white man saying racism can be excused but animal cruelty can’t be is racist simple. And it echoes the gravity of the reaction to the backlash over the cat kicking. Why was Kirkland’s voice silent when a West Ham Director made racist comments about African players at West Ham tagging them as causing “mayhem.” Why did Vitality or Kissimmee refuse to withdraw their sponsorships back then if truly the world was united in this fight against racism.

Of course, what is said is said, Zouma cannot undo what he did. Neither can Kirkland unsay what he said. Further attempts to clarify after the backlash the comments got is what I would tag as dead on arrival.

Kirkland alone does not hold this opinion, so does the body language of so many other people and brands. All I have seen so far is that these corporate organizations only tackle racism by words but oppose it by action.

Some might say well, the topic here is not racism and that may be right to an extent. To the point where Kirkland’s comments made it a part of the conversation.

Let us look at other times when players have erred and the punishment and backlash, they got. No, it’s not an attempt to support Zouma’s action, it is an observation of patterns in other instances in which players have done things worse than kicking cats but gotten sentences which did not involve jail or sack,

here are a few examples:

1) In 2011, Chelsea star Marcos Alonso had been involved in the death of a 22-year-old girl who had died inside the car of Marcos while he was drunk driving. The player was immediately arrested after the tragic event and had to face trial for many years until 2016 when he was sentenced to a jail period of 21 months (about 2 years). The punishment was eased because it was clear that it was an accident and not an intention of murder. The player had to compensate €61,000 fine and had his driving license canceled for three years.

2) France striker Karim Benzema was given a one-year suspended prison sentence after being found guilty of conspiring to blackmail former international team-mate Mathieu Valbuena over a sex tape.A judge also ordered the Real Madrid player to pay a fine of 75,000 Euros (£63,000). No, he did not lose his adidas sponsorship over crimes committed against actual humans

3) The former Liverpool defender, and Sky pundit, Jamie Carragher spat at a 14-year-old girl who of course could not defend herself; he offered an apology and was back on-screen after a while. No, he did not lose his job.

4) Jamie O’Hara who hypocritically has conveniently found his voice to speak about the Zouma cat kicking was fined £500 for punching a schoolchild back in 2014

5) Atletico Madrid and Uruguay striker Luis Suarez while playing at Ajax in 2010 was suspended for seven games for biting PSV Eindhoven’s Otman Bakkal on the shoulder.

Again, while playing for Liverpool in 2013, he was suspended for 10 games for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic on the arm

Also, while playing for Uruguay in the 2014 World Cup, he bit Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini. He was not punished during the game. This one left a visible scar.

Well, he was never sent to jail or sacked. Adidas did not even withdraw its sponsorship.

The question is: Is there a pattern here?

Scenarios abound of instances where football players have committed actual crimes against humans and never either lost sponsorship or even got jail time, why then is the Zouma case different?

I will say there is Just one difference. He is black and he kicked a cat in a society where corporate brand sees no economic or commercial value in many black players.

All of this, the uproar, the outcry, the public debacle did come up but I neither heard of a sack or jail time which has become the mantra in the Zouma case is quite thought provoking, sickening, and disgusting to me as a black person.

ITS ALL ABOUT RACE

A white man does worse but gets away with it. A black man? Not as much. Zouma has now paid the highest fine ever for a football player. He kicked a cat. He paid worse than the man who racially abused Patrice Evra and the man who was convicted of manslaughter while drunk driving.

The black person x-rays the scenarios in the past few days and is thrown into a state of disgust at how this faux outrage tells him/her that ‘a cat’s life is worth more than yours’

Just pause for a moment and imagine if there was this much pushback and vitriol for racism when Raheem Sterling was trolled for tattoos

Just pause for a moment and imagine if there was this much pushback and vitriol for racism when Raheem Sterling was trolled for tattoos or the Hungarian teams whose fans consistently racially abuse black players during games.

Black people are expected to take things on the chin when at the receiving end of a transgression but cannot be forgiven when they transgress.

One of the most irritating sights I have had to endure in recent days is seeing people come out to applaud Lewis Hamilton for being gentleman enough to climb the podium after the farce that happened in Abu Dhabi. Why wasn’t Max Verstappen gracious enough to do same in Saudi Arabia or are those foolish standards only set for Black people.

Racism is not just about words. It is about everything and anything. It is not just only about not getting access to basic needs because of your color but also encompasses getting the heavier punishment for an act which pales far in comparison when compared to what others who are not black have done.

It is interesting to see how there are heavy punishments to protect some animals but far less ones for racism. The Adidas response to the Zouma and the Suarez situation echoes this loudly.

SOCIAL MEDIA IS AT IT AGAIN

Of course, social media has its benefits. They abound but at times like this we could take a step back to examine its pros and cons.

Is the sensationalism that seemed to have made this issue spiral out of control simply because it is all over social media, and these platforms are quickly becoming judge and jury?

A black man is being criticized on social media and slaughtered on the altar of social political correctness as petitions arise that he should be jailed while others say he should be sacked from West Ham. And yes, brands do not want to be caught in the crossfire, they do not believe a black man has enough social capital to be defended. Adidas will gladly support Suarez after he bites humans three times but will not support Zouma after he kicks a cat. This is an interesting double standard.

Tourism company Kissimmee will gladly take their sponsorship away from kicking a cat because of social media outcry but pictures of their company show humans sitting on whales. Does that also qualify as animal cruelty? Or is there a line drawn already?

If Zouma was Chinese or white, would the backlash have been same?

Fans use social media as a tool to propagate cancel culture and sponsors seem to be dancing to the mob’s tune especially when a black person is involved.

MOVING FORWARD

Its most important to get black voices out there to set these narratives straight.

West Ham’s Michail Antonio’s response after being asked for comments is quite interesting. “I’ve got a question for you. Do you think what he’s done is worse than racism?”
“I’m not condoning a thing that he’s done. I don’t agree with what he has done at all.
“But there’s people that have been convicted and been caught for racism and have played football afterwards. They got an eight-game punishment or something like that, but people are now calling for people to be sacked and to lose their livelihood.

“I’ve just got to ask this question to everyone out there: is what he’s [Zouma] done worse than what those people convicted of racism done?”

Although it is quite surprising to see that more black players have not come out to point out this uncomfortable trend but in this age of cancel culture, therein lies a reason for abstaining from topics like this one. I for one know that there would be some eye rolling and canceling from some white corners about this piece but honestly, I could not care even if I attempted to. It is the truth of every black person who deep down is not cowering to the mob or giving power to cancel culture.

The media is an immensely powerful tool in times like this. How are the narratives shaped? Who is shaping it? Who wants to have uncomfortable conversations? Who will risk his or her job which was most likely gotten due to Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion quotas to speak up against this madness? The media also needs more black people having this uncomfortable conversation as Daily Mail’s assistant editor Darren Lewis on Twitter pointed out recently that the priorities of people and companies have become clear in times like this, and the message is succinct that they really do not stand with players in their entirety.

They only stand with players with huge commercial value.

Would they cancel a Pogba or a Messi for kicking a cat?

Black athletes need final power and increase commercial value if this fight against racism and cancel culture will be successful eventually because taking a knee is not going to cut it. I really have never rated that ritual anyway.

It is honestly mind boggling that entities who kill chickens for burgers, hoard covid vaccines, employ child labor to make its products, kill animals to make leather for boots are sacrificing a black man for kicking a cat.

No one is excusing animal cruelty but why from the body language of these brands does racist backlash seem lenient. Why does it look like a sin is greater than another?

Kicking cats will never be okay but how does it carry more repercussions than manslaughter, revenge porn and racism

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Mary Cathryn Akinsola

Mary Cathryn Akinsola

Started as a Graduate Chemist. Then followed my dreams… Today, I’m a a Sports Broadcaster, Writer, Reporter, Content creator, Editor and Producer.