By Rob Dauster
Serge Aurier is everything that Tottenham needs in a right back.
He’s pacy. He’s strong. He’s attack-minded. He’s the prototype of what manager Mauricio Pochettino looks for in a fullback; Kyle Walker at half the price.
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Anyone that watched Kieran Trippier struggle to do anything against Chelsea early in the season is already well aware that kind of speed out wide is something Spurs are missing, potentially the difference between competing for the top four and competing for a title.
Serge Aurier also comes with a significant amount of baggage, not the least of which is an issue getting a visa and work permit to actually enter the UK.
He was arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer outside a Paris nightclub. He received a two-month jail sentence and is currently appealing the ruling. In November, he was not allowed to enter the country for a Champions League group stage match against Arsenal.
But assuming he wins his appeal, and assuming the reports linking the want-away PSG defender with Tottenham — according to L’Equipe, terms have been agreed upon and Aurier has already undergone a medical — are true, then the bigger issue Spurs chairman Daniel Levy faces is the fact that he’ll be bringing in a player with a documented history of using homophobic language.
For those that are unaware, last spring, during a Q-and-A that Aurier did on the app Periscope, the Ivorian insulted a number of his teammates and called then manager Laurent Blanc “une fiotte,” which, in French, translates to “f—-t”.
After initially denying that it was him on the video, Aurier released a half-hearted apology, attempting to clear the air with his teammates and coaching staff:
“I made a big mistake, I am here to say sorry to the coach, the club and my team-mates, and to the supporters because they are the most important people,” he said. “I want to apologize especially to the coach, I can only thank him for all he has done for me since I arrived in Paris. He wanted me and since I came here everything has gone really well. I owe him a lot and that is why I apologize sincerely to him for what was said, which I deeply regret.”
“I will accept any sanction the club impose on me regarding this incident. I made a mistake, it was unforgivable and I am ready to face all the consequences.”
Nowhere in that statement does Aurier apologize for the use of homophobic language. Nowhere in there does he accept responsibility for the pain he caused LGBT PSG fans that had to hear him say those things. Nowhere does he acknowledge that using that word is wrong.
And therein lies the problem.
Every time a member of the LGBT community hears homophobic language like this, it triggers something in them. They hearken back to the days when it wasn’t okay to be gay. It reminds them of every time they were discriminated against for their sexual orientation. The mere presence of Serge Aurier on Tottenham’s roster will do this to LGBT Spurs supporters.
Think about it like this: How many times have you found yourself lying awake at night, replaying the most awkward, embarrassing and painful moments of your past over and over in your head?
Now imagine having that feeling every single time you watch your favorite soccer club play simply because they decided to sign a player that may actually be homophobic. Imagine being put into a position where you have to decide whether or not to continue cheering for your club because something as normal as hearing an announcer say the right back’s name reminds you of every single person that has hated and ridiculed you for who you are.
Sports are supposed to be the place we go to get away from all of that, particularly at a club like Tottenham, where the Proud Lilywhites supporters group’s rainbow flag was clearly visible on every television broadcast from White Hart Lane:
Ben Daniels and Michael Caley of Cartilage Free Captain, SB Nation’s Tottenham website, wrote a sensational piece on this topic and I encourage everyone to go read it.
Where I differ is that I do not believe that Aurier is off-limits to the club, but that is assuming the player is willing to make amends, to become a face fighting for equality within the league.
According to reports in France, PSG’s chairman punched a door over the lack of sincerity in Aurier’s apology. Compare that to Manchester United star Paul Pogba, who has spoken openly about respect that gay footballers deserve and shaved “#EQUAL” into his hair to support the cause.
Frankly, I’m not sure even that would be enough. Anyone can read a PR crafted apology when they know millions of dollars and a career’s worth of earning power is on the line.
Sit Aurier down with the LGBT supporter’s groups. Reach out to at-risk, LGBT youth. An apology is not as impactful as educating someone with his platform as to why using that language is such a problem.
Because I promise you Aurier is not alone in thinking it is OK to call people “f—-t”. I can also promise you I’m not the only one that is thankful that I didn’t have a platform and an app that could broadcast everything I said in my late-teens and early-20s to the entire world.
People should be allowed to make mistakes like this as long as they learn from them. Young athletes saying ignorant things should be a teaching point. Getting through to Aurier means reaching all the people that pay attention to what he has to say.
Which is why Tottenham, should they opt to sign Aurier, have a responsibility here.
But it’s about more than forcing an apology and a few public appearances. It’s more than a couple of well-produced twitter videos featuring
Aurier trying to make amends.
It is on the club to make Aurier prove that he wants to learn, and that he truly understands what he did and why it’s wrong.
And if he doesn’t, then he doesn’t deserve a place at Tottenham, and the club should be ashamed of putting the pursuit of a trophy ahead of the people willing to spend their life supporting Spurs without one.