The Football Association are investigating after Bernardo appeared to compare team-mate Benjamin Mendy to the mascot of Spanish confectionery brand Conguitos.
Mendy appeared to take the tweet in good humour but, following criticism by other Twitter users, it was deleted. The FA are also considering a 2018 Instagram video in which Bernardo describes Mendy, who is wearing an all-black outfit, as “naked”.
Kick It Out, the football anti-racism body, described the mascot as a “racist stereotype” and criticised Bernardo’s post as “discriminatory”. The FA could yet fine or suspend Bernardo if he is found guilty of discriminatory behaviour.
Sterling has taken an influential stance against racism within football and, in an interview with Sky Sports on Saturday night, he admitted he could see why some may find Bernardo’s post offensive.
But, referencing only Bernardo’s tweet and not the 2018 video, Sterling called on the FA to show leniency and take his team-mate’s intentions into account.
“It is a situation that no-one needs at this moment in time. It is a situation between two friends, Bernardo and Mendy as everyone knows,” he said.
“I can see exactly the point where some people can get ‘touchy-feely’ on it but I feel in that situation Bernardo made a joke to his friend, he has not referred to his skin colour, he has not referred to his lips, in both pictures they have both got small heads.
“The most important thing for me is that he didn’t refer to a colour. Everyone can see that Mendy is a black lad, we have got to be proud to be black as well.
“It is really sad to see someone like Bernardo be, like the whole week, be kind of down about it because he is not that way inclined.
“As I keep going on about, they are two really good friends, it is really sad to see. I can understand where the criticism has come but I don’t feel it was no way intentional of trying to be racist. Its not because its my team-mates, it is just I don’t see any racism in it.
“But I can exactly see the point where people have come from. Bernardo is deeply sorry about it. He is not in the wrong for me but at the same time I can see where people think it is wrong.
“We have just got to be smarter on social media. We understand in this day and age, anything you say and anything you do can quickly be judged and it is just a really sad situation at this moment in time.”
On Friday, City manager Pep Guardiola doubled down on his claim that Bernardo’s tweet was simply “a joke” between friends, that any punishment would be a mistake and that the images were “similar”.
Guardiola’s stance has been criticised but Sterling said: “I think the club, as I always believed, handled the situation right.
“The sooner the FA can realise that this was no way intending to be discrimination, there is not one moment he uses a negative term to speak about his skin colour. That is the most important thing.
“He tried to make a joke and that joke wasn’t the best one but we have got to move on and understand it wasn’t intentional.”
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