World Cup puts racism problems on center stage

D.J. Johnson and D.J. Johnson

Think back to the 1998 NBA finals when the Utah Jazz were trying to prevent the Chicago Bulls from winning three straight league championships for the second time in recent memory.

You know, the one where Bryon Russell’s fame was eternally cemented for his unsuccessful defensive stint against Michael Jordan. That one.

Try to imagine the following hypothetical situation. After Jordan faked Russell and essentially ended the series, Salt Lake City goes into an emotional uproar. Upset that Russell blew their opportunity to win their first championship ever, the Delta Center blows up.

But instead of just being angry, Salt Lake City starts tossing around the “N” word in reference to both Russell and teammate Karl Malone. Russell’s own fans start grunting like apes as a reference to the lack of evolution within the black community. In the following year, imagine posters with pictures of Russell and Malone in the arena with accentuated lips and bodily figures resembling gorillas.

That’s really hard to imagine. In fact, the aforementioned anecdote is, in our day and age, nearly impossible. It’s quite possible that the NAACP would work to have all of Salt Lake City shut down.

Welcome, my friends, to European soccer, where this exact same situation can easily transpire without anyone really thinking twice about it. The only difference between the hypothetical situation between Chicago and Utah versus the real-life situations happening in places like Spain and Italy is that while Russell might be called derogatory names because he failed Utah, dark-skinned minorities are called derogatory names simply because, they are dark-skinned minorities.

By now, the despicable situations happening in some of Europe’s more modernized countries have been well-documented. The image of Ivory Coast native and Italian soccer player Marc Zoro picking up the live ball in the middle of a game as his own fans heckled him with “monkey” chants has been plastered on every news outlet imaginable.

Carlos Kameni, a native of Cameroon who plays for one of Spain’s club team, and French striker Thierry Henry who, if not the best player in the world, is one of the globe’s elite, have been two of many minority soccer players who have spoken out against Europe’s unabashed racism.

The problem, however, isn’t that FIFA officials don’t care. Even many of the players themselves recognize the problem; in Zoro’s situation, it was two of his opponents who tried consoling the young Ivory Coast native and getting the fans to quit their abuse.

On the other hand, the problem is so universal that there’s very little that FIFA can do. With so few blacks in Europe, and without a disgusting history of ruthless slavery to force Europe to clean up their act, racism is obviously nowhere near as taboo as it is here in the states.

Sadly, the problem doesn’t lie within soccer; this form of prejudice is a continental phenomenon.

I offer a few unique critiques about the entire situation.

Soccer cannot take the blame for this situation. It is far too easy and extremely inaccurate to say that “soccer fans” are the ones who are perpetuating this overt racism. It’s important to reiterate that this problem is a widespread epidemic that exists outside of the sport. Because there’s no “racism police,” like American organizations such as the NAACP to patrol this issue, the problem continues to thrive. Soccer is simply a media-recognized manifestation of this spectacle.

With that being said, FIFA and the game of soccer are in the best position to help alleviate this problem without international bloodshed.

This is because soccer is the quintessential staple of a country’s pride and nationalism outside of the United States. A baseball player could be booed for making a bad play here stateside, but an individual can be killed for blowing a big World Cup game in other countries around the world. Needless to say, soccer is a big part of who Europeans are.

FIFA must take a firm stance and capitalize on this fact. By adopting a zero-tolerance policy with the fans, small yet significant steps can be taken to help Europe realize how unacceptable their racist behavior really is. Having fans arrested and fining these individuals helps tackle the problem on a micro level. Investigating fans from certain areas and punishing those respective teams will encourage these fans to refrain from partaking in this repulsive behavior. Even imposing a short-term sabbatical would be a radical step that would cause temporary disarray across the land, yet get the point across that racism will no longer be tolerated as common practice.

Granted, it’s only a few places that are really having these problems. And it’s really hard to make any modern-day comparisons between the Nazi-yielded racism of Europe and the racism that is used as the basis of stand-up comedy here in the U.S. But if this issue is not properly and adequately addressed, then the “beautiful game” of soccer will be tainted and looked down upon by the world powers who realize how disgusting racism really is.

Send comments to D.J. at [email protected]