- Adebayo Akinfenwa, known as the “world’s strongest soccer player,” believes he can help players suffering racial abuse after his own experiences as a teenager in Lithuania.
- “The Beast” was subjected to vile abuse whilst playing for FK Atlantas during the 2001/02 season, where he was called a “n—–” and subjected to monkey chants, according to The Guardian.
- He now hopes through the opening of his own charity, the “Beast Mode State of Mind Charity,” he can open a platform for players suffering to talk, share, and learn to combat such abuse.
- “Do not feel like you need to put in on your shoulders,” he told Business Insider at the FIFA 20 launch event on Wednesday evening. “And do not feel like talking about it makes you any less of a man.”
- Akinfenwa’s charity is set to open in 2020.
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Adebayo Akinfenwa is most well known for being the “world’s strongest soccer player.”
The 37-year-old journeyman developed the reputation from both his obvious size and power (he can bench press over 400 pounds), as well as from the popular video game, FIFA, on which he was named its strongest player in each of the last six editions.
“The Beast,” as he is affectionately known, is a gentle giant — kind, funny, and charismatic in abundance.
It’s a winning combination that has seen the Englishman rack up over a million followers on Instagram, as well start his own popular clothing brand, BeastModeOn. He’s also been offered the chance to star in an American movie — though he turned it down for footballing reasons.
However, while his life may now seem glamorous, it’s not always been plain sailing for the big man.
After leaving Watford, England, as a teenager in 2001, Akinfenwa signed with Lithuanian side FK Atlantas, a move his agent organized through his connections at the club. The move was supposed to be a platform for Akinfenwa to showcase his talents. Instead, he spent the season being racially abused at the hands of the club’s fans.
“It’s hard. I went through it at 18,” Akinfenwa told Business Insider during a meet at the FIFA 20 launch event in Greenwich on Wednesday. “Mine was in an Eastern European country. And it was severe.”
He told The Guardian that he endured everything from monkey chants, to being called “a n—–.” But rather than succumb to the abuse and leave Lithuania, Akinfenwa stayed, and faced the problem Beast Mode style, eventually going on to become a fan favorite, as well as open his own Adidas store in the city of Klaipeda.
While it’s still not a time he remembers fondly, Akinfenwa now believes the experience means he can help other players suffering the same, as well as from mental health problems that can accompany such abuse through the vector of his new charity Beast Mode State of Mind, which is set to open in 2020.
“We’re doing a charity where it’s about embracing who you are, not worrying about the stereotypes, not worrying about the pressures of society or what people think you should be,” Akinfenwa told Business Insider.
He added: “For me, you’ve got to be comfortable. You’ve got to be comfortable in yourself. So if somebody’s coming out and they’re talking about your weight, your color, you’ve got to be comfortable in yourself. Don’t let them depict you in that way.”
Read more: A Romanian TV-show host has been accused of ‘extreme racism’ after saying on air that Serena Williams looks ‘like one of those monkeys at the zoo’
Racial abuse in soccer has been highly prevalent in the news in recent weeks.
Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham was targeted on Twitter by attackers who called him a “black c—“, and a “f—— n—–,” after he missed a penalty in the Europa Super League final.
Manchester United duo Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba were also targeted following their side’s 1-1 draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers.
There have been others too — Romelu Lukaku, Yakou Meite, and Raheem Sterling are just a few who have spoken about the abuse they’ve suffered in recent weeks at the hands of fans all across the world.
While his charity might not be open just yet, Akinfenwa still has advice for those going through what he once did as a teenager in Lithuania.
“My advice would be that, firstly, remember it’s ignorance,” he said. “So perhaps they need to be educated. And also that talking helps. Do not feel like you need to put in on your shoulders. And do not feel like talking about it makes you any less of a man.
“It’s not a problem that’s going to get dealt with overnight, its a societal problem. It’s not just football. It happens in society day-to-day. So my advice would be that it’s not going to be able to get tackled overnight. Talking helps.
He concluded: “Don’t allow it to affect your soul.”
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