You get up from your desk at work to go for a cup of coffee. On your way down the corridor the accounts payable team leap to their feet, fists banging the glass partition, and shout violent abuse about your wife and extended family. You walk past with a steely gaze, jaw clenched.
Later you will be praised for this “professional” response by one of your senior managers, who adds that sadly there’s nothing they can do about accounts payable as this is a problem in society generally.
Back at your desk Steve from the post room drops off an envelope, in the process hawking a large gobbet of mucus into the back of your head. As he wanders off whistling you think briefly about complaining to your line manager. But you’ve complained before and don’t want to be seen as a troublemaker.
Later, during an in-house presentation you solve the eternal question of whether marketing can be incorporated as an arm of sales (of course not, it’s unworkable) and are warmly congratulated by the entire board of directors.
Although, looking around you’re reminded that nobody called Paul has ever made it into a senior role here and probably never will – sorry, Paul, that’s just the way it is even though nobody knows why and there’s no justification for it.
With apologies for introducing a note of levity into a toxic, draining and deadly serious subject. But at times the level of workplace tolerance required of our footballers does seem a little surreal. Just as it shouldn’t come as a surprise that both Danny Rose and the fictional you might look forward to leaving your jobs, as Rose has suggested in some widely reported comments.
No doubt those who don’t care much about his feelings will point out Rose is paid a lot of money to be a footballer, that abuse is just a corollary to the job. This is of course incorrect. Instead it is simply time to listen, as it is to Moise Kean and Raheem Sterling. And to try, this time with feeling, to do something about it.
As in many other areas of life, the problems football is experiencing with racism stem from the actions of a small group of noisy, hateful people. But also – and this is not something all of us have immediately grasped – through tolerance of them by the passive majority. It is this point that now feels increasingly urgent.
There is a well-worn paradox here. The majority of those who have a platform to frame football’s response to racism don’t suffer from it personally. This is because they are, like every person in charge of a major football body, like Leonardo Bonucci, like 82% of the UK population, white people.
It is a disjunct that has circled even the most well-meaning end of this debate, raised rather guiltily in majority-white punditry panels and radio phone-ins, shot through with phrases like, well, it’s not for me to say, and of course I can’t possibly know.
Probably it’s time to stop being so coy. Can white people ever really understand racism in football? Yes, of course they can. For one thing, they’re always there when it happens! White people know what causes racism. They know that white people cause it. Perhaps this is the moment, as they say in uplifting lifestyle magazine articles, to “own it”.
Or at least to get on board properly with the solution. It has gone largely unremarked but there is a stark difference between the way sympathetic white observers have talked about recent incidents of racism and the way many younger black players and commentators have responded.
Among the liberal rump there remains a consensus that there is no real point in punishing clubs for racism in the stands as this penalises non-racist fans too, a line of logic that would also make it OK for nightclubs to stay open despite brawls on the dancefloor and drug-dealers in the toilets because, well, there are also “good” punters around. Gareth Southgate has suggested education is the key, and that English people should look at their own country before excommunicating the likes of Montenegro.
Which is all very sensible. But meanwhile Rose feels desolated by the abuse. Sterling says teams should be forced to play behind closed doors. Olivier Bernard thinks clubs should be docked points. There is a significant split here that could yet lead football into somewhere new.
And really, why not? Why not act on the advice of those most affected? Why wouldn’t you just listen to whatever Sterling has to say on this? Why not walk off and just refuse to carry on until it stops?
This is going to happen somewhere before long, whether it takes the formation of a black players’ union – or ideally just a union where everyone supports these ideas. The only interests that would be hurt are commercial and administrative ones and, frankly, who gives a damn.
If black players are making the most compelling case for action, it is as ever the response of the majority that will dictate how this energy is disbursed.
There is a need for support at all levels, an acceptance that racism is a problem for every member of society: a block to talent and opportunity, a sore that works away at the edge of things, that infects our most vital institutions with mediocrity.
It may come into football from the world outside. But football is a part of society too. It can be better, can lead, can represent not what happens elsewhere, but what should happen. Frankly, it is just time for everyone involved to say: enough.