Ex-England striker Emile Heskey says “racism was considered the norm” when he came through the football ranks.
Chelsea are investigating claims of racism from the 1990s against former coaches Graham Rix and Gwyn Williams, while Newcastle United Under-23s coach Peter Beardsley has been accused of racism and bullying.
All three men deny the allegations.
“If you got sour or upset about any of these things you generally wouldn’t go anywhere in football,” said Heskey, 40.
“No black person controls anything within football so we had to fit in.”
But he said it was right that people were able to speak about their experiences: “It has to come out to let people understand what we had to go through and how tough we had to be to make it within football.”
Heskey started his career at Leicester before a move to Liverpool. He went on to have spells at Birmingham City, Wigan Athletic, Aston Villa, Newcastle Jets in Australia and Bolton Wanderers before retiring.
He also won 62 England caps, scoring seven internationals goals, and played in two World Cups.
Heskey did not go into specific details when asked about individual clubs and coaches, but told BBC Radio 5 live’s Sportsweek: “You are in an environment where you’ve got to remember racism was considered the norm. I grew up in the late 1980s and 1990s.
“You desensitize. You grow up with that sort of stuff. I don’t think anything was maliciously said to me as a player.”
He added: “I’ve just turned 40 and in my era [racism] was a little bit less than the era before.
“Maybe some things that were seen as a joke – the era that I came from you had to just take it as a joke.
“Now you wouldn’t take it as a joke. You’d report it or you would have it out with the guy.”
Heskey spoke of an incident which took place when he was a young supporter at hometown club Leicester, saying: “Coming to the stadium – I was only a schoolkid at the time, I would probably have been 14 or maybe 15 – a local Leicester fan told me ‘your kind is not welcome around here – go home’.
“I just carried on and went into the stadium. If you look at it, that same person three years down the line would have been cheering my name.”
The Football Association announced earlier this week that it will adopt its own version of the ‘Rooney Rule’ implemented in the NFL in 2003.
It will mean English football’s governing body interviews at least one applicant from a black, Asian and minority ethnic background for future roles in the England set-up.
“It’s always good when something like this comes about and people get on board,” said Heskey. “The more getting on board, the easier it will be for black and ethnic people to get back involved in football and the industry.”
Research conducted in November showed 22 of 482 roles across England’s top four leagues were filled by coaches from BAME backgrounds.
“I see where the FA has gone, leading by example,” said Heskey. “You can talk about other jobs at the FA for say under-15, 16, 17, 18s, coaches, backroom staff and all that sort of thing. That sort of aspect I can understand it.
“But when you are talking about the actual pinnacle of being the England manager, you’ve got to have learned your trade.
“First, let’s get into the lower divisions – into League Two, League One, the Championship and then Premier League – and then we can possibly be talked about to be future England managers.”