Victor Osimhen, the Nigerian star striker who helped Napoli win their first Serie A title in 30 years last season, is at the center of a controversy that has sparked outrage and debate among fans, media, and experts.
The 24-year-old forward is considering taking legal action against his own club after they posted a series of offensive videos on their official TikTok account that seemed to mock and insult him.
The first video, which was quickly deleted, referred to Osimhen as a "coconut", a term that is widely considered as racist and derogatory towards people of African descent.
The club claimed that the video was meant to reference an old tweet from Osimhen, where he jokingly called himself a "coconut head" after scoring a goal. However, many people saw the video as a disrespectful and insensitive attempt to make fun of Osimhen's appearance and ethnicity.
The second video, which was also deleted, featured a clip of Osimhen's penalty miss from their match against Bologna on Sunday, with an odd, sped-up voice dubbed over the top. The voice said: "Victor, Victor, Victor, you missed the penalty. You are bad, very bad. You are not a champion.
You are a loser. You are a coconut." The video was widely criticized as humiliating and bullying Osimhen for his performance and repeating the racist slur.
Osimhen, who was visibly upset and angry during the match, reacted by deleting all his photos and references to Napoli from his social media accounts. His agent, Roberto Calenda, wrote on X (formerly known as Twitter): "What happened today on Napoli's official profile on the TikTok platform is not acceptable.
A video mocking Victor was first made public and then, but now belatedly, deleted. A serious fact that causes very serious damage to the player and adds to the treatment that the boy is suffering in the last period between media trials and fake news." Calenda also said that they reserve "the right to take legal action and any useful initiative to protect Victor".
Napoli, on the other hand, issued a statement that did not include an apology to Osimhen. The club said that they never wanted to offend or mock Osimhen, who is "a treasure of this club". They also said that they rejected every offer for his transfer abroad during the summer. They explained that social media, especially TikTok, has always used "an expressive form of language with a light heart and creativity", without intending to insult or deride anyone. They added: "In any case, if Victor perceived any offence towards him, this was not what the club intended".
The statement was met with severe criticism from many observers, who accused Napoli of gaslighting Osimhen and avoiding responsibility for their actions. Some also pointed out that the club's technical asset phrase was cold and dehumanizing towards Osimhen. Many fans expressed their support and solidarity with Osimhen, who has been one of the best players in Italy since his arrival from Lille last year for a club record fee of up to 80 million euros.
Osimhen himself has not spoken publicly about the incident yet, but he has previously expressed his fears and concerns about racism in Italy before joining Napoli.
He said in an interview last year: "I am not going to lie about it: I had doubts because I used to hear stories about racism incidents in Italy.
I spoke with Kalidou Koulibaly (his Napoli teammate) and he told me it is not how everybody thinks". He also said in another interview earlier this year: "
Racism is a bad disease and it can make someone commit suicide in terms of where we blacks are coming from".
The case of Osimhen vs Napoli is one of the latest examples of how racism can affect players' mental health, dignity, and career. It also raises questions about how clubs should handle their social media accounts and communicate with their players and fans.
It is not clear yet how this situation will be resolved or what consequences it will have for both parties involved. What is clear though is that racism has no place in football or society and that everyone should respect and celebrate diversity and inclusion.