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Opinion – SSC Napoli proves social media is a powerful weapon

Despite an empty apology from the football club, Osimhen’s racist treatment on TikTok has already done irreversible damage. 

Victor Osimhen may be the first footballer to sue his own club over social media mistreatment.

The 24-year-old threatened legal action against SSC Napoli last week, after the club shared videos mocking Osimhen to their TikTok channel.

The tone of the content was undeniably racist, and all videos have since been deleted. But the damage has been done – on all sides.

Napoli’s actions caused immediate outrage in the football sphere and beyond. One video, in which Osimhen was compared to a coconut, drew significant vitriol.

Osimhen’s decision to sue the club was met with widespread support, and has since prompted SSC Napoli to issue their own public statement.

‘[It was] never the club’s intent to offend Victor’ Napoli said in a statement. ‘Proof of this is the fact that the club firmly rejected all the offers it received for the attacker’s transfer abroad.’

The so-called ‘apology’ is a deflection of blame, and embarrassingly ignorant. As if bids to keep Osimhen on the team – as a strong player who ultimately earns the club money and status – would prevent club leaders and fellow team members from acting in a racist manner.

Despite claims by Napoli players that Osimhen is still on good terms with both them and the club, Victor removed all images of himself in a Napoli shirt from his social media accounts.

Osimhen helped Napoli end their 33-year-wait for a league title last season as Serie A’s top scorer with 26 goals.

At just 24, he is arguably the greatest Napoli player since Diego Armando Maradona.

Social media has long been a tool used by brands to connect with their fans and customers. Sporting clubs are no different. But these platforms wield immense influence in shaping public opinion and culture.

For Napoli, TikTok may have just cost them their best star in years.

‘On social media, and TikTok particularly, expressive language is used in a light-hearted and playful manner. In this case involving Victor there was no intention of mockery or derision’ a spokesperson for Napoli said.

It raises the question of how we impart boundaries on social media. Does the ‘expressive’ nature of these spaces create opportunity for offensive behaviour? Certainly. But this shouldn’t be without consequence.

Just because platforms like TikTok make it possible for anyone and everyone to share their opinions doesn’t mean we all have to listen to them – and it certainly doesn’t mean that racism should be allowed to slide under the guise of a ‘joke.’

If anything, the immense audience these channels give their users should mean content is monitored here more than anywhere else.

As Gabriele Morcotti said of Napoli’s apology statement, ‘it’s an explanation, but not a justification, because you can’t justify something so stupid.’

Club social media accounts are ultimately marketing arms. For Napoli, these posts have soiled an international reputation – regardless of intent, the world is scratching their heads as to why the club would risk their star player over an at best unfunny, and at worst racist, video.

The timing of the incident is also particularly troubling given the context of Italy’s current political climate, where issues of racism and xenophobia have become increasingly prominent.

Napoli’s actions confront the uncomfortable truth that racism is still deeply ingrained within the fabric of football, and addressing it requires far more than just performative apologies.

It demands systemic change, education, and a commitment from clubs to foster an environment of inclusivity and respect. Not to mention a more responsible use of their social media channels.

Victor Osimhen’s subsequent decision to stand up to the club – whether he follows through with legal action is still to be confirmed – is a call to action for all teams, players and fans to unite in eradicating racism from a sport they all love. Making the beautiful game truly beautiful for everyone.