Blamed by his own teammate for the racist abuse aimed at him during an Italian soccer match, Juventus forward Moise Kean received plenty of support from rival players on Wednesday.
Kean is a 19-year-old Italian whose parents are from Ivory Coast. He plays for Italy’s national team and Juventus, the most popular soccer club in the country. He is also black.
When Kean scored a goal against Cagliari on Tuesday, he was subjected to a torrent of racist abuse from the other team’s fans. One of his teammates, Leonardo Bonucci, later said Kean was as much to blame as the fans hurling the abuse. Bonucci is white.
Manchester City winger Raheem Sterling, who is also black and has been outspoken in calling out racism, came to Kean’s defense on Wednesday.
“The blame is 50-50, Leonardo Bonucci … All you can do now is laugh,” Sterling wrote on an Instagram story along with a slew of laughing face and applause emojis.
He later posted a screenshot of the message on Twitter.
Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba, a Frenchman who is black and used to play for Juventus, posted a picture on Instagram of Kean’s celebration and called for Italians to combat racism.
“I support every fight against racism, we’re all equal,” Pogba wrote in English, followed by more in Italian. “Good Italians wake up, you can’t let a small group of racists talk for you.”
On Tuesday in Cagliari, Kean was insulted throughout much of the Italian league match by the home fans. He received a yellow card for faking an injury in the first half.
But he then scored his team’s second goal late in the 2-0 victory. After the ball went in the net, he stood in front of the home fans with his arms outstretched. That sparked even more furious and openly racist abuse.
Cagliari captain Luca Ceppitelli tried to protect Kean, rushing to his side and pleading with the fans to stop. Instead, Ceppitelli appeared to almost be hit on the head by a bottle thrown from the stands.
In the aftermath, Bonucci put half of the blame on Kean.
“There were racist boos after Kean’s celebration and (Blaise) Matuidi got angry but I think the blame is 50-50,” said Bonucci, who is also teammates with the teenager on Italy’s national team. “Kean made a mistake and the fans made a mistake.”
Matuidi, who is also black and won the World Cup with France last year, was subjected to racist abuse at Cagliari last year.
The incident involving Kean is just the latest example of racist abuse in soccer this season. Last week, several England players were targeted with monkey chants during the team’s 5-1 victory in Montenegro.
Former Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure, a four-time African player of the year from Ivory Coast, said players should walk off the field if they are being racially abused.
“Yeah, let’s do this,” Toure said at a UEFA conference on diversity in soccer. “When something like that happens we have to send a strong message.”
On Wednesday, as criticism mounted, Bonucci posted a photo on an Instagram story of him and Kean embracing with a conciliatory message.
“Regardless of everything, in any case… NO TO RACISM,” Bonucci wrote.
Another teammate from both Juventus and Italy’s national team, Giorgio Chiellini, defended Kean in a story posted on the club’s website, calling him “a positive figure of Italian football.”
“The only thing he did wrong today was the simulation (faking injury), that he surely won’t repeat, but he’s here to learn,” Chiellini said. “He’s a very positive figure and he certainly didn’t deserve the insults he received.”
Kean, who scored in both of Italy’s qualifying matches for the 2020 European Championship, also got backing from Mario Balotelli — another black Italian born to African parents and who played for the country’s national team.
“And tell Bonucci that his luck is that I wasn’t there,” Balotelli wrote in a comment on Instagram. “Instead of defending you he does this? I’m shocked I swear. I love you brother!”
Kean hasn’t spoken publicly about the incident, but he did post a photo of his goal celebration on Instagram with a message.
“The best way to respond to racism,” Kean wrote, ”#notoracism.”