Manchester City goalkeeper Zack Steffen is throwing his support behind a new action plan to combat racism in football.
Working alongside Common Goal, the charity initiative kickstarted by Manchester United’s Juan Mata, USA international Steffen has spoken openly about his ‘disgust’ and ‘heartbreak’ at witnessing the racial turmoil that divided his country last year and that continues to undermine football today.
Indeed, social media platforms are being called upon to take more serious action as players face abhorrent abuse.
Zack Steffen is throwing his support behind a new action plan to combat racism in football
The Common Goal plan is to fund and implement a toolkit designed by black, indigenous, people of colour (BIPOC) experts across the US that will provide anti-racist training
‘There’s been so much talk over the last months about racism in soccer and beyond, and enough is enough,’ says Steffen, who has seen a number of teammates targeted. ‘We need to show people how to be anti-racist.’
To that means, the 25-year-old is fronting the Anti-Racist Project, an action-based approach to tackling racism in football and society. It was launched on Wednesday, initially in the United States, led by a diverse coalition of leaders from the US soccer industry who say they are ‘tired of the continual lack of action that follows the repeated condemnation of racism’.
‘I wanted to join this project because it is the kind of collective action necessary to make large-scale change, and I hope that this project will go worldwide and create a new culture of inclusion in as many countries as possible,’ added Steffen, who made his Premier League debut for City in their 3-1 win at Chelsea last month.
Steffen has been outspoken on the rise of racism in football and is demanding a change
The ARP was created by Common Goal together with former LA Galaxy and USA international defender Tony Sanneh, plus clubs Chicago Fire, Oakland Roots and Angel City FC and the national team supporter group, the American Outlaws.
‘The plan is to fund and implement a toolkit designed by black, indigenous, people of colour (BIPOC) experts across the US that will provide anti-racist training for players, coaches, fans, club staff and executives from grassroots to elite level.
The project will train 5,000 coaches, 60,000 young people and 115 staff in over 400 communities in the first year and the aim is to bring it to the UK and Europe.
Steffen, also the founder of VOYCENOW, was on loan from City at Fortuna Dusseldorf when news broke of George Floyd’s brutal death at the hands of Minneapolis police last year. The footage sparked outrage across the globe.
Watching from Germany, he released a statement at the time saying: ‘As a goalkeeper for the United States Men’s National Team, it is the greatest honour to wear the US badge on my chest. I proudly defend my team’s goal on the field and work hard to ensure I am representing my country in the best light off the field as well.
Steffen made his Premier League debut for City in their 3-1 win at Chelsea last month
‘But what does it mean when the very nation I protect the goal for won’t protect its citizens who look like me? When its leaders disregard our most basic human rights? When our lives are at risk for simply just existing?’
‘It was just disgust,’ Steffen says now. ‘Heartbreak, and nothing made sense. I just felt really small at that moment. I haven’t even watched it all the way through yet, and I was in Germany at the time so it was tough because I couldn’t do much.’
Steffen then put his VOYCENOW platform into place, standing up for social change, and he hopes the Anti-Racist project amplifies that message.
‘We want to help our kids be educated on what’s going on in the world,’ Steffen said. ‘The biggest thing for us is we want to establish relationships with these kids and their families in the cities where we’re located. We know we can’t reach every kid, but our goal is to help as many kids as possible.’
With that in mind, the US national side adopted the slogan ‘Be the Change’ when they played against Wales and Panama in November.
‘We talked about what the culture of our team is, and that’s diversity all across the board, respecting each other and being professional,’ Steffen said. ‘What can we do? It was tough due to COVID and being apart, but we were having those conversations and we continue to have those conversations.’
Sanneh, who played for USA in the 2002 World Cup added: ‘I remember being chased around the field being called the N-word. We have made some progress but not enough.
Steffen has been working with the Common Goal project, started by Man United’s Juan Mata
‘Racism takes many forms. Sometimes it’s an obvious individual manifestation, but it’s also the structural barriers embedded in the game at different levels, but the end result is the same, people of colour are excluded from the game. We know what the problem is, now is the time to go and fix it.’
Evan Whitfield of Common Goal, a lawyer and former MLS player with Chicago Fire, said: ‘Common Goal is all about unleashing the collective power of soccer to create positive action.
‘There are no black majority owners of MLS Clubs, there are zero black coaches in the NWSL. This needs to change and the responsibility to make that change lies with everyone – not just people of colour. We have a solution that can transform the system from top down and bottom up.’
‘The needle doesn’t move unless everyone is involved,’ said Oakland Roots defender Max Ornstil. ‘It’s not enough for white people to just say they support people of colour.
‘As white people we need to be willing to get uncomfortable, be vulnerable and have difficult conversations. Because change doesn’t happen without that. If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem.’