Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Let's not go down this road

Disturbing news out of Major League Soccer, as the Washington Post Soccer Insider Steven Goff revealed that a racial slur was directed at a player at a game between Columbus and New England. The slur was audible on a video clip posted on YouTube, which Goff linked to on his blog yesterday. And this, my friends, is the beginning of a very slippery slope for MLS and soccer in this country. 

The sad truth is that racism in soccer is alive and well, with many high profile incidents taking place in recent years in Spain, France, and eastern European countries. I was going to link to a few of them here, but instead, just do a google search for "soccer racist abuse" and see the long list of incidents, most of which occurred in the past 12 months. Racism in soccer is hardly new either, but until now it had never been seen as an issue in American soccer.

In American society? Oh yeah, who are we kidding? Racism is about as American as apple pie. But specifically with soccer, this has the potential to further deteriorate to the point of being similar to the actions in Europe, where banners with racist slogans are unfurled, bananas are thrown at Black players, as well as monkey chants directed their way whenever they touch the ball. Now, I don't believe for one second that this would be allowed to happen in America the way it has in Europe, where the governing authorities routinely turn a blind eye towards this sort of stuff. What it can do is give the American sports pundits another reason to further denigrate soccer, cast it aside and call it "un-American."

Soccer is one of my favorite sports. I am as big a proponent for the sport to succeed in this country as anybody else and that has actually started happening recently. Beyond just David Beckham's arrival in Los Angeles, ESPN has increased its coverage of the sport to more than just showing UEFA Champions League games. The network has started showing soccer highlights on nearly every episode of Sportscenter, will carry the European Championships this summer and are reportedly exploring the option of creating an all-soccer channel.

I've always said that for soccer to truly take off in the U.S., it needed to copy off the European model of how the sport operates. Soccer big-wigs in this country decided for us a while ago that Americans only like sports in a certain way and since soccer doesn't fit into all those traditional North American values, that it would have to be "Americanized." Well, they were wrong as hell. Gradual integration of the international aspects of the sport have seen it grow in popularity.

But let's not get carried away.

It started with the streamers in Toronto, then there were recent reports of violence at a recent L.A. Galaxy/Chivas USA game, but we have to draw the line well in advance of racial epithets being yelled at players. This has to stop. Not only to protect the sport I love, but for the good of the country. In many ways, sports act as a microcosm for the nation as a whole. As the election has shown us, we still have a lot of skeletons left to clear of this country's closets. Instead of stuffing them back in and hoping they never fall back out, we need to get this stuff out in the open and confront it head-on.

1 comment:

  1. Great point about the danger not that racism will be allowed to catch on at the games, but that it will be used to marginalize soccer as a sport in this country.

    As people are finally realizing that covering European soccer is the way to generate further interest in the sport, crap like this is the last thing we need.