Dundee United midfielder Ian Harkes has condemned the “disgusting” racist abuse aimed at Dundee striker Jonathan Afolabi and believes football is nowhere near eradicating the issue.
The American, a vocal supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, was appalled to learn of the abuse Afolabi suffered on Instagram following the Dee’s Scottish Cup win over Bonnyrigg Rose earlier in the year.
The on-loan Celtic youngster scored in the match to help the Dark Blues progress into the fourth round, only to be greeted with the horrific messages when he checked his phone in the dressing room afterwards.
Harkes expressed his disgust at the situation and says more needs to be done to protect footballers.
The 25-year-old said: “There’s always abuse online and through social media because I think it’s easier for people to hide behind the words and what they say.
“That’s the toughest part for footballers – to see that and get direct messages.
“It (the abuse aimed at Jonathan Afolabi) is disgusting behaviour and tough to get a handle on but it’s down to those platforms as well.
“We need to get the hateful speech and behaviour out of it.”
Players have been taking the knee all season in a show of solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement and Harkes insists it’s something that should remain in place so long as racism remains a problem in football and society.
He continued: “I think, unfortunately, racism is still in the game.
“Some people might argue the small action of taking the knee is just a symbol and doesn’t mean much but I think it still needs to be fresh in our minds constantly.
“We’re not even close to where we should be as a society and it’s happened too much in football.
“It’s terrible and ugly to see every time it happens. Hopefully people are doing what they can to get it out of the game and we still continue to speak about it.
“It’s not just going to go away without any action or without any condemning of that behaviour.”
Wonder strike pleases Harkes but points to poor performance
Turning to matters on the pitch, Harkes was pleased to net his first league goal of the season, curling home a wonderful 25-yard effort in Wednesday night’s 5-1 loss to St Mirren.
His strike gave the Tangerines hope after going in 3-0 down at the half following a Joe Shaughnessy goal and two controversial penalties.
However, Harkes admits they deserved nothing from the game.
The midfielder says the Terrors’ focus now turns to Hibs, who come to Tannadice on Saturday.
He added: “Obviously, I’m happy to score but it’s not the time I would’ve wanted.
“It gave us a little lift. We talked about it at half-time – the big thing was to try to get the next goal but we gave away two soft goals just after that.
“It was a tough one.
“All we can do really is just move on to Hibs positively, and be thankful we have another game a couple of days after.
“We have try to react to this, learn from it and try to get a result because that’s the only way now.
“We’re very disappointed with ourselves in the way we competed and just everything in that game we didn’t show up.
“It’s easy for a game to go this way or that but Luke’s (Bolton) definitely seemed like a penalty to me and then we get the calls against us.
“That completely changes the game and until then I didn’t think there was much in it.
“Then you find yourself way behind and completely changing the game so, regardless of those calls, we just weren’t good enough on Wednesday.”
United aiming to ‘bring the energy’ against Hibs
The result heaped the pressure on United, with St Mirren closing the gap on them in sixth spot to just two points. The Paisley side have three games in hand.
Harkes was scathing in his assessment of the situation.
“We knew it was a massive one on Wednesday night and every one from here on out because we’ve just put the pressure on ourselves and made it that much more difficult,” he said.
“We’ve talked about being hard to beat and this is just completely off of what we normally are and the way we show up to games.
“We have to react to it. Hopefully against Hibs we bring the energy and completely change our mentality because we were off it.
“We’re looking to give them a tough one again and make it more difficult to not give up goals like that.
“That’s the frustrating part because we’re creating chances again. We want to get back to that and make it harder to score against us because five goals is just embarrassing.”