Race is once again under the spotlight. This time, the world of international soccer. On Saturday, Mario Balotelli of Italian club AC Milan cried openly after what he later said were racist chants by fans that brought him to tears. And once again, we are reminded of a persistent social ill which countries throughout the globe have yet to effectively cure.
The roots of racism run deep in soccer. ESPN’s feature story Beautiful Game Turned Ugly: Racism in Europe’s Soccer Arenas covered this aspect of the sport that goes long beyond an event here or there. To suggest that racism is limited to Balotelli’s recent encounter is a denial that little serves the sport or those who desire to confront this evil.
Similarly, undercurrents of America’s racial divide followed recent stories of Seattle Seahawk’s Richard Sherman and Oklahoma State basketball player Marcus Smart; both labeled a “thug” for actions that might have been lapses in judgment, but certainly not a commentary on them, in-general.
Racial hostilities surfaced in the run-up to 1987 NCAA Fiesta Bowl, that would decide the national championship, featuring the largely-black Miami Hurricanes versus the largely-white Penn State Nittany Lions. America’s darkest disease was on full display in the 1993 NCAA Basketball Finals between Michigan and North Carolina. Backlash followed the Wolverines’ Fab Five as these black athletes bursting with swagger, ushered-in long, baggie shorts [and black socks] to men’s basketball. ESPN’s commentary is surprising only in a sense that it asserts Americans cannot understand this given our experience of the civil rights movement.
This line of reasoning suggests that racism ended in sports with the last wad of spit headed for or middle finger raised to Jackie Robinson. Not in the slightest sense. Remember the Buffalo Bills Bruce Smith’s wake-up call? Smith complained about racial slurs and racist mail while playing in Buffalo. Those stings were coupled with media reprisal laced with its own bit of undertones. A New York Times article, for instance, failed to challenge racist sports fan but seemed to blame Smith, “But just because these people write these letters does not mean Bruce Smith has to read them.”
Given its unique role in society, sports is a venue that breaks the grip of racism and, ironically, reveals it. The Balotelli incident only resurfaced what has been as much of sports as the fields on which teams play. Fan sentiments have run the gamut in the Balotelli story. At one end of the spectrum, fans deny racism had anything to do with it. At the other end, treatment of Balotelli serves as a reminder that blacks are still the object of disdain – athletic prowess, notwithstanding. Despite what anti-racism measures FIFA has put in-place, we are not likely to address the underbellow of racism through crowd controls. These crowds are made up of individuals who return to the homes, communities, organizations and companies, churches, and other involvements harboring their racist views.
Fan racism towards Balotelli’s took me back to a video that hit social media three years ago. In the video, judges on a television competition show are stunned by one of their peers conveying feelings about blacks during discussions of a black contestant. The African American judge, among other things, responded to the self-proclaimed racist that some things are “better left unsaid“.
While the suggestion of leaving some things unsaid appears prudent on-the-surface, this is a matter of debate. For instance, have you ever heard someone say, “I prefer the south. At least you know where you stand with people.”
Here, then, is the question, “Should we encourage people to share controversial feelings about race or should we discourage this?”
What do you think? After you view the videos, let’s talk about it.
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