Kevin-Prince Boateng became a key figure in football's fight against racism on Thursday.
The 25-year-old Ghanaian spoke to CNN on Friday to share the story of what transpired in Milan's friendly with fourth division side Pro Patria on Thursday, during which Boateng punted a ball at fans and stormed off the field, refusing to play the rest of the match. His teammates followed him off the field and the match was cancelled.
This is how Boateng described the incident:
It started like after five minutes. I heard the group in the corner when they were doing the noises of monkeys. So first of all I thought they just, I didn't really realize, I didn't want to realize it, but then it happened a second time to [Sulley] Muntari. Then I spoke to the referee, and I said to the referee, "Listen, if it happens again, I'm not going to play anymore." The referee was like, "Yea, don't worry, don't worry, don't worry." And I said to him, "Yea, no I do worry," because it's not nice.
So then the third time I was trying to dribble a player and I heard the voices again, like the noises from them, so that's where I stopped the game and then I shot the ball to them, and I was like really angry in this moment. That's why I shot the ball in the crowd...I was angry. I was sad. I was disappointed.
Boateng said that he did not warn any of his teammates that leaving the field would be the next course of action for him, but he said that he heard the same gestures towards Muntari, as well.
Now, I think, I'm 25 years old and I don't want to see this, I'm sorry I say this, bull**** anymore. I don't want to see these things anymore. And for myself, no one convince me to play again. Like I said straight, I'm not going to go on this pitch again to play anymore. They can't convince me to play in a crowd or in a place like this. There's no one that can convince me because I made my mind up straight.
Were Boateng and Milan right to walk off the field on Thursday?
The former Hertha Berlin, Tottenham Hotspur, Borussia Dortmund and Portsmouth player admitted that this is not the first time he has had to deal with racist remarks or gestures aimed at himself or his teammates. He says that it's high time racism was gone from the world.
"I'm just surprised that in the time we're living now, it's 2013, and still these things happen and still these things come up and we still have to fight against these things and hear these things."
Boateng has received worldwide support for his actions, starting with his teammates who walked off the field with him. He is blown away by the support.
I'm very, very happy that the team stood beside me. Even today, I had the phone call of the president, [Silvio] Berlusconi. He called me and I'm very thankful that he's on my side and he said I did the right thing to walk off, and we don't tolerate any racism in the world, or especially on the football field.
With his actions on Thursday, many around the world are calling Boateng a pioneer, a man who has changed the course of football history. Players have considered walking off the pitch before, however teammates were able to persuade them to stay. No one was stopping Boateng and instead they followed him right out of the stadium.
I realized [that he was considered a pioneer] after and today, like I saw how many people support and I could only write it on Twitter to come along and say thank you, and I wanted to use this [CNN interview] chance to say thank you to everyone who support me and who wants to go on this road with me.
His actions were praised by footballers all over the world, including Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand and Manchester City's Vincent Kompany, as well as Boateng's brother, Jerome, who plays for Bayern Munich. The three players were a few of the many who stood up for Boateng. In fact, the only big-name players that seem to have come out against Milan's actions are two former Milan stars, Botafogo midfielder Clarence Seedorf and FC Sion midfielder Gennaro Gattuso (via ESPN).
If the stories about KPB walking off the pitch with teammate's after being racially abused are true,fair play to him..well done #UefaStandUp— Rio Ferdinand (@rioferdy5) January 3, 2013
I can only salute Milan's decision to leave the pitch. Also noted that the majority of the fans were completely supportive of the players.— Vincent Kompany (@VincentKompany) January 3, 2013
I am proud of my brother well done bro— Jerome Boateng (@JB17Official) January 3, 2013
Boateng then declared that he would leave the pitch again if he were to face more racial abuse, and not just in a friendly either. His promise could cause more players to do the same and lead a drastic change in football.
I don't care if it's a friendly game, or if it's a Serie A game, or if it's a Champions League game. If this were to happen to me again, I would walk off the pitch, and I think the people who support me, they will support me even when I do it in a big game.
I would say to everybody that if you feel that you don't want to play in this moment anymore because it's not nice, you're disappointed, you get angry, definitely I would tell [other players] to walk off the pitch.
AC Milan have also promised Pro Patria and their fans that they will return to play a full match with them after the issue is resolved (via AC Milan).