Ex-England and Arsenal striker Ian Wright has reacted with bemusement after an 18-year-old Irishman was spared a criminal conviction for sending messages of racist abuse to him last year after using his character in a video game.
Wright, who stands second in Arsenal’s all-time goalscorer list behind Thierry Henry and is now a prominent TV pundit, was targeted for a torrent of around 20 private, abusive messages on Instagram by Kerry teenager Patrick O’Brien after he had used a likeness of Wright in a FIFA PlayStation tournament.
Per reports, O’Brien was unhappy with the performance of Wright’s video game representation and issued the string of racist insults towards the former player before he was subsequently arrested and charged following a complaint by Wright.
However, after Judge David Waters spared O’Brien a criminal conviction stemming from the incident, Wright issued a statement on social media in which he said he was “disappointed” at the judge’s handling of the case. This comes after Wright had previously tweeted his forgiveness to the teenager.
“I’ve seen today’s judgment and I’m disappointed,” Wright said online.
“This case was never about revenge, it was always about consequences for acts of racism. My forgiveness of this young man was for my own deeply personal need and desire to move forward without further anguish.
“I’m a 57 year old man that has has experienced racism throughout my life. I wasn’t expecting my forgiveness to be an invitation to lighten a sentence.
“Seeing this judgment, I can only wonder what deterrent there is for anyone else who spouts this kind of vile racist abuse.
“An individual wished death upon me because of my skin colour. No judge’s claims of ‘naivety’ or ‘immaturity’ will ever be acceptable to us.
“The supposed immaturity and naivety of our attackers is never any comfort. So yeah, I am disappointed. I’m tired. We’re all tired.“
During the trial Judge Waters had suggested that the messages issued by O’Brien to Wright were “mindless comments” which he said came from a “naive” young man.
One of the string of messages sent by O’Brien – 20 in all – discussed how he would like to put Wright “on his deathbed” by infecting him with the Coronavirus.
“You are like a 65-year-old,” O’Brien wrote. “If I get corona (virus) I will cough in your face and give you your death sentence. If I see you I’ll put you on your deathbed.”
However, this and other comments were attributed to the folly of youth by the judge, who noted: “I believe this was the unthinking behaviour of a young, naive man who put things on social media which were absolutely reprehensible.”
O’Brien escaping a criminal conviction comes amid of a time of increased scrutiny when it comes to racism in football, with several players including West Brom’s Romaine Sawyers, Chelsea’s Reece James and Manchester United duo Anthony Martial and Axel Tuanzebe revealing that they have been targeted by racists online in recent weeks.