Germany international Rudiger wrote about the incident during the 2017 Rome Derby as part of his essay in The Players Tribune.
“This was not the first racist abuse that I had experienced, but it was the worst. It was real hatred. You know it when you see it in their eyes,” wrote Rudiger.
“In the moment, I did not react. I did not walk off the pitch. I did not want to give them that kind of power. But inside, I don’t care how strong you are, if you are a human being with a beating heart, you are marked by it forever.
“Whenever something like this happens, how does the football world react? People say, ‘Ahhh, it’s so terrible.’
“The clubs and the players post a little message on Instagram: ‘End racism!!!’ Everyone acts like it was ‘just a few idiots.’
“There is an investigation, but nothing really happens. Every once in a while, we have a big social media campaign, and everybody feels good about themselves, and then we go back to normal. Nothing ever really changes.”
However, there was a note of hope from the very same incident, as Rudiger explains the teammate who broke through the usual platitudes.
“You know, I think very often about Daniele De Rossi. He came to me after the Lazio match and he said something that I don’t think I had ever heard before. I was still very emotional, very angry.
“De Rossi sat down next to me and said, ‘Toni, I know I will never feel the same as you. But let me understand your pain. What is going on inside your head?’
“He did not tweet. He did not post a black square. He cared.
“A lot of people in football say things publicly, but they never really come to you personally. De Rossi really wanted to know how I felt. This guy was a club icon. A legend. When I came into the dressing room for the first time, just seeing him made me feel like I was a nervous little kid.
“But in my toughest moment, De Rossi cared about me as a human being. He wanted to understand.”