For for decades, Patrice Evra could not take it. The former Manchester United and France captain did not feel overwhelmed when he watched the sad films. His eyes were dry when his friends and relatives died. If something strange happened, such as winning the Champions League, he would have laughed from the outside, but inside, he was stupid. “I was a robot,” he says.
He was not sympathetic when others showed emotion. One day, when he was playing for Juventus in about 2015, he remembered seeing a good teammate.
“I passed in front of him and I was saying, ‘What happened?’ “It’s not like he gets the bad news about someone’s death,” Evra says. “I said, why are you crying? and said: ‘I’ve watched this movie four times and I cry every time I watch it.’ I said, “Wow.”
Evra told a friend that she had informed the players. “Everyone laughed. “I was sorry for that,” he said.
Since then, the 41-year-old has grown up – and left to break up. Last year for the first time openly spoke about child sexual abuse.
Evra was 13 years old and lived in her teacher’s house because his house was too far from his new school. The teacher forcibly entered his bedroom at night and put his hand under his clothes or forced him to have oral sex. “I did not tell anyone. I was too embarrassed to talk to my mother and I did not know that anyone else would believe me, “Evra wrote in her autobiography, I Love This Game, which was published in October.
This week the footballer will speak at the #ENDviolence conference, an event sponsored by the UN that aims to better protect children around the world against abuse.
Alongside speakers including French President Emmanuel Macron, and actor Ashton Kutcher, Evra will speak openly about her experiences and call for action from world leaders.
Speaking to Zoom from a hotel room before the conference on Tuesday, he is thoughtful and sincere. He wants to talk about abuse because it’s important to him. He wants governments around the world to pass laws to better protect children. “We need to reach the top people,” he says. “It’s a simple campaign but we need to have the law.”
He added: “I’m very surprised to see that the smuggling ban in the UK has not been done yet. But in Wales they did, in Scotland as well. Children around the world deserve to be protected. So that’s my purpose in life. I want to do. I want to change things. “
For Evra, who was born in Senegal and raised in France, the journey from a football “robot” to an open conversation about her own personal traumas has deteriorated.
In the last few years she has married and adopted a child, Lilas, who is now one year old. His wife, Danish model Margaux Alexandra, whom he describes as “the woman of my life”, has helped him feel “safe”.
But he does not believe he would have been so dangerous that he was still in the world of football. Talking about feelings and difficult times among friends was not a sign of strength. Evra says, “He is a poisonous man.” “People are not open. And when you show that you are human, it will be like, “Oh, we can not fight this man.”
Before Evra could reveal her whereabouts, Evra was annoyed at how people changed her perception of him. He also felt guilty. Years ago, at the age of 24, police were asked by phone whether the teacher had assaulted him or not, but for fear of the consequences, he refused to admit that he had done so.
“Some children had complained to this man and the police wanted to know if he had ever tried to do anything to me,” he wrote in his book. “Because I was famous and because of the sad reaction, I lied and said no. They asked me if I believed and I assured them I did. I have lived with that lie for many years. “I can not tell you how sorry I am.”
And he was ashamed. “It was: ‘What will people think of me? They see me as a strong man, as a captain, as a leader. When my teammates know, what will they think about it?’
For years, instead of allowing myself to open up, “the way I went through it was that I had to take all my emotions,” she says. “I could not take it. I could not show that I was very happy. I do not want children to live the way I did for many years. ”
Only after he withdrew from elite sports – when the potential impact of the strike would diminish – was he able to speak.
“It’s something that has to come from itself; not because someone pushed me, “he says.” For me it was because I was watching a pedophile program. [Margaux] saw that my face changed and said, ‘What happened?’ and I said, ‘Nothing’ and she said, ‘Come on, we are not lying to each other. What’s the problem?’
“Then I opened up because I felt safe. I felt like I could not lie. She did not force me. And we talked about it. So I say, ‘Opening up is hard.’ [up]. ‘”
Tewra still, looking back, is not sure he would have served him well when he was playing. “I thought to myself, ‘Will Patrice now – in a place where she is more open, emotional, sensitive – succeed in the same way that I did as a robot?” With that robot, with that machine, success and achievement were all important.
To encourage further reporting of abuse, and reduce stigma, is not just a matter of telling victims to speak up, Evra says. Instead, it is a matter of educating people and creating an environment in which they can talk frequently. The same goes for encouraging footballers to go out as homosexuals, and be open about other personal things, he says.
But that does not mean it is straightforward, or that everyone will accept it immediately, he says. “I can develop [homosexuality] because I do not follow any book, ”he says. “I just follow myself. I follow my heart. But I do not think we can be too harsh on those who say, ‘I can not because of religion, or anything else.’
He adds: “It’s really hard. For example what happens to a PSG player, ”mentions an incident involving Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Idrissa Gueye, who allegedly refused to play in a match in order not to wear the orange symbol in support of LGBTQ + rights. “He did not want her to wear the shirt, you know. But that does not mean he is against it. He just does not want it to develop.”
Problems in football are social problems, he says. “I always say we want to point the finger at football or whatever. But it’s society. It’s about education. No one is born racist. No baby, I wake up and I’m racist. All footballers are human. Friday.”
However, since leaving the sport, he has found a life outside of the “bubble” of football and the “poisonous manhood” that he says surrounds him. “A lot of people said, ‘It’s going to be difficult when you stop playing football. You’re going to be depressed.’ But I’m really happier than ever. I’m free. I’m not in that box. I can do anything. If I want to be serious, if I want to be a player, if I want to encourage people. This is life. “I can be who I am.”
Too often, being whoever it may be, means joking. On Instagram, he has amassed 10 million followers and a near-cult status among young viewers for his hilarious videos of the infection, from Monday’s motivational clips to videos where he looks like Tina Turner and shakes a raw chicken with a trick. “In the past, all executives were against social media,” says Evra. “So I’ll not be able to make all those videos crazy.”
It’s so straightforward it’s so positive that even racist trolls were annoyed. “If someone puts a banana emoji I see it like ‘I love bananas’, and they remove it immediately,” he says. “When the monkeys are sent, I say, ‘Send the gorilla.’ The monkey is thin. The gorilla is strong. ‘ And remove it. ”
In addition to giving him more comedic freedom, the “retiree” allowed him to relinquish his guard. Although it’s “more busy than ever” – from campaigning until Freeze the Fear appears on the BBC – it’s less stressful. He spends his free time at home with Margaux, playing table games, changing files and making dinner. He says: “I am a wealthy young man.
And she cries often – focusing on the little things. “Before I got there, I was immediately saying, ‘No, what are you doing?’ But Margaux was like this: ‘No, you have to give it up. You have to open it. Whatever you have in your chest, you have to take it out because it will burn you.’
Today, if he saw his Juventus friend crying over a movie, instead of teasing them, “Patrice would now be like, ‘Oh, let me watch the movie and we’ll catch up,'” he says. “I can catch it. [from] parts. I can get it if I watch a movie. We are soft. This is how I was trained; my father and people like the men around me, crying is a sign of weakness. But not. “The key is to show strength.”
The opening was particularly poor about abuse. He tries not to dwell on the attacker. “I do not even know the face of this person when people talk about it. I do not know if he is still alive or dead. Someone asked me, ‘Do you hate that person?’ I said, ‘No.’ Really, because there is no hatred in my heart. Do you want that person arrested? Yes, but not for me. “So that they do not do the same things that I did to other children.”
But, he says, blocking it has been devastating for years. “[Speaking out] I realized that it’s been a few years since I opened up, killing a lot of my emotions. Many of my feelings. “
He does not want to be known as a “victim”, to be considered a “hero” or a “hero” for sharing his story, as some have defined him. But he hopes it might encourage someone else to take steps to report the attacker. “They might think: ‘If this player, the captain of this team, opened himself up, I could do it,'” he says.
From the day his book was published and here, people on the street thank him for talking about his past and say that they too have really been raped. “My mother always said, ‘The more you pay, the more you get.’ And the response I got from people on the street was, ‘Thank you,'” she says.
“It left me thinking, ‘Wow, Patrice. Making a ball around was fun. But you can do more than that.’