Mohamed Salah is fantastic on the football pitch — but he might be doing even more off it.
It seems that Liverpool F.C.’s star forward, who scored 22 Premier League goals this season and helped his club win the Champions League over the weekend, has literally, singlehandedly, shifted how large swaths of Liverpudlians think about Islam — and driven down hate crimes as a result.
A study from Stanford University’s Immigration Policy Lab found that since the uber-popular English soccer club signed the Muslim Egyptian national in June 2017, hate crimes fell 18.9 percent in Merseyside County relative to a synthetic control that estimated what the rate would’ve been. No other type of crime experienced a similar effect.
“This decline was more extreme than we would expect based on chance alone, and the decrease in hate crimes was more pronounced than the decrease in any other crime category,” the authors of the study wrote. “Taken together, the evidence points to Salah’s rise in prominence causing a decrease in hate crimes in Liverpool F.C.’s home county.”
The study also found that Liverpool fans halved their rate of anti-Muslim tweets compared with other top-flight English clubs — a drop from 7.2 percent of all tweets about Muslims to 3.4 percent. The study also noted that Liverpool fans have even sung positive chants about Salah that reference his Muslim identity, calling him “a gift from Allah.”
The study looked at police data, 15 million tweets from soccer fans and took a survey of more than 8,000 Liverpool fans. The researchers found that Salah’s public persona as a celebrity — he’s known as an agreeable, charismatic family man — has worked to shift Islamophobic perceptions as he talks openly and publicly about his faith.
“By watching games, post-game interviews, promotional videos released by the club, and content on Salah’s social media pages, fans are exposed to rich information about Salah’s life on and off the field,” the researchers wrote. “Viewers see what a Muslim prayer looks like, perhaps for the first time, when Salah scores.”
In short: the researchers found the “Salah effect” was real — that a celebrity from a stigmatized group can actually reduce prejudice toward that group. So yes, Salah’s two consecutive Golden Boot awards — given to the EPL’s top scorer — are impressive, but it’s hard to beat the off-field impact.
Cover: Mohamed Salah of Liverpool prays during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Liverpool FC at Old Trafford on February 24, 2019, in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images)