Former Manchester United and France star Patrice Evra says he wants to use his platform to tackle violence against children after detailing the sexual abuse he says he received as a teenager.
In his autobiography ‘I Love This Game,’ Evra writes about abuse that he says took place when he stayed at a teacher’s house to cut down on the school commute.
Evra, who was 13 at the time, says the teacher would enter his room every night that he stayed and that he remembers tying shoelaces around his pajamas to try and stop the assaults.
Despite telling his mom that he no longer wanted to stay in that house, Evra says he did not tell his family of the abuse until weeks before his book was published in 2021.
“I don’t want people to suffer the same way I suffered,” Evra told CNN Senior Sport Analyst Darren Lewis.
“When those things happen, you feel shame about yourself, you feel guilty, you don’t know if people are going to trust you.”
Evra never filed a police report regarding the abuse and says he denied it happened when approached by police when he was 24 years old.
It wasn’t until opening up to his fiancé Margaux Alexandra that he decided to share his experiences.
“So that’s why I don’t want people to say ‘Wow, Patrice, you’re so brave. You’re so courageous to talk openly about that,’” he said.
“It’s not about that. The victim – it’s not because they are brave. It’s because it’s the right moment where you feel safe and trust.
“I’ve been so lucky. I met the woman of my life, Margaux, and she helped me to get rid of all that toxic masculinity and to open myself.”
Now that the former defender has retired from his glittering professional football career – he won five Premier League titles and the 2007/08 Champions League at Manchester United and represented France 81 times – he wants to raise awareness of child abuse and urge governments to help support those groups trying to help survivors.
He has since partnered with ‘End Violence,’ an organization that seeks to prevent and respond to all forms of violence against children.
By sharing his own experience, Evra hopes that others will feel more comfortable speaking about uncomfortable topics.
“I won’t push anyone to talk about it,” he added. “I would say you’re going to get the support because it’s really easy to open up, but what’s next? The support.
“That’s why this will be my cause after playing football, I’ve got priority: children, gender equality, racism and mental health. All those things are really important for me.”
Since retiring, Evra has used his social media presence to spread his ethos of joy and positivity, but he has never shied away from tackling the big issues.
In his autobiography, he details the racist abuse he received as a player, notably as a youngster in Italy where he played for Marsala and Monza between 1998 and 2000.
“People were throwing bananas at me. People were doing the monkey noise every time I got the ball,” he said.
In addition to abuse from fans, he also recalls an incident where he says a player called him a racial expletive before a strong tackle which left him in the hospital.
He was also involved in a well-known incident in 2011 when playing for Manchester United.
Then-Liverpool striker Luis Suárez was given an eight-game ban for racially abusing the Frenchman during a match and then refused to shake his hand in the next fixture.
Suárez later apologized for the handshake snub.
Evra said he took a long time to get over that particular incident but now wants to use his voice to eradicate racism from the game he loves.
“I will always support someone who wants to change things. First of all, the problem is not only in football, it’s in society. It’s about education. No baby is born a racist person,” he said.
“We have to stop acting, pretending, we have to do something. Silence is a crime.”
Players in the Premier League took the knee before every game last season as a mark of solidarity against racism, and the game’s governing body FIFA has a framework which looks to punish racist behavior.
Players or officials who engage in racist words and behavior can be sanctioned with a suspension lasting at least 10 matches, or “any other appropriate disciplinary measure,” according to the latest edition of the FIFA Disciplinary Code.
Clubs can be fined a minimum of $20,076 if their supporters show discriminatory behavior, the code adds. Other sanctions include points deduction, playing a match without spectators, forfeiting a match, expulsion from a tournament or relegation to a lower division.
But in recent seasons, racism has also spread online, and players have been targeted by abuse on their personal social media channels.
A French court ordered Twitter last year to outline how it planned to tackle hate speech on its site. The social media giant appealed that decision, despite six anti-discrimination groups claiming the San Francisco-based company is failing to ban hateful users from the platform.
However, Twitter has recently introduced multiple tools and protocols in the hope of combating discrimination on its platforms.
“It’s Twitter’s top priority to keep people safe and free from abuse online and protect the health of the public conversation,” a Twitter spokesperson told CNN in a statement.
“As outlined in our Hateful Conduct Policy, we do not tolerate the abuse or harassment of people on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation.
“Today, more than 50% of violative content is surfaced by our automated systems, further reducing the burden on individuals to report abuse.
“While we have made recent strides in giving people greater control to manage their safety, we know there is still work to be done.”
Last year, Instagram launched a new tool that would automatically filter out abusive messages from accounts that users did not know.
Meta, which owns Instagram and Facebook, has said it stands against discrimination and has rolled out several safety features across its platforms.
“No one should have to experience racist abuse anywhere, and we don’t want it on our platforms,” a Meta spokesperson told CNN in a statement.
“We remove hateful content as soon as we find it and have developed safety features to filter offensive comments and DMs.
“No one thing will fix this challenge overnight, but we’re proud to be working with the football community, law enforcement, and NGOs to help tackle this issue.”
CNN’s Zayn Nabbi and Lizete Dos Santos contributed reporting.