February 11, 2022 Abdul Haqq

Uproar! Black Cats Matter

The furore surrounding international footballer, Kurt Zouma’s abuse towards his pet cats deserves attention for a number of reasons, among them being the unacceptable cruelty meted out on defenceless animals. Animal cruelty is not a new phenomenon but seldom attracts media headlines unless of course, it relates to celebrities. Even then, glaring disparities can be witnessed in the treatment afforded to them depending on their respective statuses, societal perceptions and, arguably, ethnic background. As this article will endeavour to articulate, Kurt Zouma’s is a case in point. Nevertheless, the prevalence of animal cruelty across society warrants action for what amounts to criminality at pandemic levels:

The shocking number of animal cruelty cases reported every day is just the tip of the iceberg—most cases are never reported. Unlike violent crimes against people, cases of animal abuse are not compiled by state or federal agencies, making it difficult to calculate just how common they are.[1]

This particular report continued to highlight the following disturbing information:

Cruelty and neglect cross all social and economic boundaries and media reports suggest that animal abuse is common in both rural and urban areas.

Intentional cruelty to animals is strongly correlated with other crimes, including violence against people…

Data on domestic violence and child abuse cases reveal that a staggering number of animals are targeted by those who abuse their children or spouses.[2]

Research findings such as those highlighted in the above report reveal the seriousness of this problem inasmuch as it places a spotlight on a larger, more challenging interconnected issue of domestic and violent abuse against women and children.  However, the purpose of this article is not to reiterate such research. Instead, focus will be upon the continuing duplicity of media narratives and public perceptions that fail to garner similar degrees of condemnation – witnessed against Zouma on this occasion – as a result of assumed societal privileges afforded to whiteness.  To elaborate further, we only have to refer to Zouma’s teammate, Michail Antonio’s response when questioned about his colleague’s behaviour:

I’ve got a question for you. Do you think what he’s done is worse than racism? I’m not condoning a thing that he’s done. I don’t agree with what he has done at all.

But there’s people that have been convicted and been caught for racism, and have played football afterwards. They got an eight-game punishment or something like that, but people are now calling for people to be sacked and to lose their livelihood.

“I’ve just got to ask this question to everyone out there: is what he’s [Zouma] done worse than what the people convicted of racism done?[3]

Antonio’s comments should not be discarded or dismissed as being ‘not helpful’, especially from the anti-racism Kick It Out charity’s CEO, Tony Burnett.[4] Antonio’s comments are timely since they resonate within a wider societal context where anti-black racism continues to pervade various institutions, including sport. We only have to refer to the latest resignation of Cressida Dick, the most senior police officer in the Metropolitan Police, due a lack of confidence in her leadership and ability to root out institutionalised racism (and misogyny, to name a few) from the force.[5] Burnett should instead perhaps direct his attention toward embarking on a name rebranding exercise due to the charity’s failure to make a more resounding impact in reducing or eliminating racism within sports. Racism has neither been reduced nor eliminated or, to coin the phrase, kicked out of football. Instead, the charity’s name may – for a few – begin to become more synonymous with Zouma and the now infamous cat incident.

What’s good for the goose isn’t good for the gander

The subsequent withdrawal of sponsors from both Zouma (Adidas) and his club (Experience Kissimmee)[6] are understandable given the gravity of the offence, and few would argue otherwise. However, what is of concern is the petitioning that is almost tantamount to baying for his blood – metaphorically speaking of course (with exception to any extremist animal rights activists that may decide to take up the cause of his maligned pets)[7] – with various calls for him to be terminated from his current club and no longer selected to represent France.[8] [9]

Without diminishing the cat attack, a few questions arise regarding its severity when compared to anti-black racism within sport (and this is not an intimation that kicking an animal in any way equates to a favourite pastime). Why is the response to the latter so timid and ineffectual? How is it that an animal can evoke an immediate and swift societal response to an admittedly unacceptable act, yet a more egregious one committed against humanity – systemic racism – is minimised?

We need not look too far into the past to recount former Chelsea and England football legend, John Terry racially abusing Anton Ferdinand and the ensuing prosecution for which he was found not guilty. Despite being stripped of the England captaincy and a four-match ban alongside a substantial fine, he was still lauded a hero. [10]

Michail Antonio’s above mentioned comments refer to another controversial incident in which, then Liverpool striker, Luis Suarez, uttered a racial epithet toward Manchester United defender, Patrice Evra, during a match in October 2011. Suarez received an 8-match ban and significant fine as a result, however, his club supported him by publicly proclaiming his innocence during subsequent games. In contrast, Evra received death threats:

After it was in the papers, and Manchester United received so many threatening letters about me. People said: ‘We’re in jail, we’re Liverpool fans. When we get out, we’re going to kill you and your family’. For two months, I had security everywhere I went. They were sleeping in front of my house. Everywhere I went, the security followed me. It was a tough time, but I wasn’t scared. My family were scared…my wife and brother… I couldn’t understand why people hated me so much.[11]

It should come as no surprise that many more examples highlighting the disparities surrounding the treatment of sports celebrities could be cited. The distinguishing feature between positive and negative perceptions in most instances is ethnicity – black athletes are exposed to almost immediate vilification and ostracisation, (subtle and otherwise) if perceptions of either failure or worse, resistance to the (white) status quo are challenged.

My Family & Other Animals

A recent Guardian article provides an appealing headline that places the Zouma incident within a discernable – and human – context. It further, however, inadvertently illustrates a stark reality that reinforces the import of this particular discussion; the culprits are all white, privileged and viewed through a media and societal lens of absolution:

Humans behaving badly: Kurt Zouma is not alone in animal abuse[12]

The article proceeds to list various celebrities and their alleged misdeamours such as musician Ozzy Osborne biting a live bat on stage; Justin Bieber being accompanied on stage with a pet monkey that he had separated from its mother at approximately 14 weeks, eventually failing to reclaim it from a shelter it was placed in after being seized by customs officials in Germany and; Paris Hilton receiving a visit from the Los Angeles animal services after revealing 17 dogs under her ownership, not to mention UN criticism over her posting a video of herself with a young orangutan dressed in baby attire.[13]

Conclusion: Animal Farm?

George Orwell’s satirical novel regarding a group of farm animals rebelling against their human farmer in order to create a fairer society where they can be happy and free is no longer a fictitious analogy when considering that animal rights now often equates to and occasionally supersedes human rights. The outcry in the Zouma case – where his former pets’ rights are considered more sacrosanct than his own – are difficult to ignore. Their safety and lives must be preserved, but so should his career and wellbeing. Detractors will decry, ‘All Cats Matter’ and while valid, the unfortunate reality is that in today’s society they apparently matter more than Black humans. Public lynching is a barbarity consigned to the past, however, unfortunately, a few exist within society today who would rather Zouma had kicked the bucket instead of his cat. The well-known myth comes to mind at this juncture which asserts a cat possesses nine lives.[14] Zouma has only one, therefore his treatment, together with any disciplinary procedures he is likely to face should be proportionate and consistent with legal/jurisdictional dictates applicable to us all.






[1] The Human Society of the United States: ‘Animal cruelty facts and stats,’ https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/animal-cruelty-facts-and-statsaccessed on 11th February 2022

[2] Ibid

[3] Sky Sports: ‘Kurt Zouma: West Ham team-mate Michail Antonio questions reaction to cat incident – ‘Is it worse than racism?’ 11th February 2022:  https://www.skysports.com/football/news/11685/12538071/kurt-zouma-west-ham-team-mate-michail-antonio-questions-reaction-to-cat-incident-is-it-worse-than-racism

[4] Ibid

[5] Ambrose, T: ‘‘It is necessary’: Cressida Dick critics touched by Met police scandals welcome her resignation,’ The Guardian, 11th February 2022: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2022/feb/11/it-is-necessary-cressida-dick-critics-touched-by-met-police-scandals-welcome-her-resignation

[6] BBC News: ‘RSPCA removes Kurt Zouma’s two pet cats after videos of him kicking one of them appeared,’ 9th February 2022: https://www.bbc.com/sport/football/60312876

[7] Grimm, D: ‘Animal Rights extremists increasingly targeting individuals,’ Science, 12th March 2014: https://www.bbc.com/sport/football/60312876

[8] Marshment, J: ‘David Moyes ignores calls to sack Kurt Zouma over cat-kicking as West Ham boss defends selection,’ Team Talk, 8th February 2022: https://www.teamtalk.com/west-ham-united/kurt-zouma-kicking-cat-david-moyes-defends-selection-hammers-urged-sack-defender

[9] Roser, J: ‘Kurt Zouma could be dropped from France squad as Didier Deschamps condemns ‘intolerable’ cat attack,’ Standard, 11th February 2022: https://www.standard.co.uk/sport/football/kurt-zouma-cat-attack-france-didier-deschamps-b981871.html

[10] Hincks, M: ‘Anton Ferdinand and John Terry incident: What the ex-Chelsea captain said – and how the racism case unfolded,’ iNews, 2nd December 2020: https://inews.co.uk/sport/football/anton-ferdinand-john-terry-incident-what-said-racism-cases-timeline-explained-777906

[11] Marshall, A: ‘Evra and Suarez: Eight Years On’, Manutd.com 4th May 2020: https://www.manutd.com/en/news/detail/patrice-evra-revisits-2011-incident-with-luis-suarez-at-anfield-in-utd-podcast

[12] Bryant, M: ‘Humans behaving badly: Kurt Zouma is not alone in animal abuse,’ The Guardian, 9th February 2022: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/09/humans-behaving-badly-kurt-zouma-is-not-alone-in-alleged-animal-abuse

[13] Ibid

[14] Osborne, H: ‘Do cats have nine lives? The myth explained,’ Newsweek, 29th October 2021: https://www.newsweek.com/cats-nine-lives-myth-explained-1643381

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