Columnist Kelvin MacKenzie has been suspended by The Sun after he expressed “wrong” and “unfunny” views about the people of Liverpool.
In an article published on Friday, MacKenzie compared Everton midfielder Ross Barkley, who has a grandfather born in Nigeria, to a “gorilla”.
He said men with similar “pay packets” in Liverpool were “drug dealers”.
Merseyside Police are investigating whether his comments constitute a “racial hate crime”.
The Sun apologised “for the offence caused” and added that it was “unaware of Barkley’s heritage”.
In a statement of his own, MacKenzie reiterated the latter sentiment, adding that it was “beyond parody” to describe the column as “racist”.
In the article, which has since been taken off the newspaper’s website, former editor MacKenzie said:
- Barkley is “one of our dimmest footballers”, also calling him “thick”.
- His eyes make him “certain not only are the lights not on, there is definitely nobody at home”, adding: “I get a similar feeling when seeing a gorilla at the zoo.”
- Men with similar “pay packets” in Liverpool are “drug dealers” and in prison.
Alongside the article, The Sun published adjoining pictures of Barkley and a gorilla on their website with the caption “Could Everton’s Ross Barkley represent the missing link between man and beast?” The picture was later removed.
Barkley, 23, was punched in a Liverpool bar last weekend in what his lawyer described as an “unprovoked attack”.
Police confirmed they were investigating the “full circumstances”.
‘It’s a smack in the face to our city’
Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson said he had reported the article to the police for a “racial slur”.
Speaking to BBC Sport, Anderson said: “Not only is it racist in a sense that he is of mixed-race descent, equally it’s a racial stereotype of Liverpool. It is racist and prehistoric.”
Anderson later tweeted to say he had given a statement to Merseyside Police and reported the article to the Independent Press Standards Organisation.
And in a further tweet, he said that “ignorance simply cannot be used as a defence” and that apology is “simply not enough”.
Furthermore, he criticised Everton for their failure to respond by banning Sun journalists from Goodison Park, calling it “a smack in the face to our city”.
And he asked fans attending Saturday’s Premier League meeting with Burnley to turn their backs on the pitch at 15:06 BST in protest.
MacKenzie was editor of The Sun when it published a front-page article headlined ‘Hillsborough: The Truth’ in the aftermath of the 1989 disaster at Sheffield Wednesday’s football stadium.
The article claimed Liverpool fans were to blame for the tragedy, in which 96 people died. MacKenzie apologised in 2012.
Last year’s landmark Hillsborough inquests recorded that the 96 fans were unlawfully killed and that Liverpool supporters at the FA Cup semi-final had played no role in causing the tragedy.
This Saturday, 15 April, marks the 28th anniversary of the disaster.
Burnley midfielder Joey Barton, who was an Everton youth player, tweeted: “Those comments about Ross Barkley, a young working-class lad, are disgusting. Then add in the fact he is mixed race! It becomes outrageous.”
Former Liverpool striker Stan Collymore tweeted: “Implied racism at its finest.”
Football’s equality and inclusion organisation Kick It Out said they had received complaints about the “insulting and offensive” comments.
“We will be contacting Everton and the PFA about their responses in providing support to Ross and his family,” they said.
BBC Sport has contacted Everton and Barkley’s representatives for comment.