Commentary: Hate, Bigotry Thrive in Sports Despite Global Nature of Athletics

BOSCH, NETHERLANDS - JANUARY 29:  Jozy Altidore (L) of AZ Alkmaar and Jeffrey Buitenhuis of Den Bosch battle for the ball during the KNVB Dutch Cup match between FC Den Bosch and AZ Alkmaar at BrainWash Stadion De Vliert on January 29, 2013 in Bosch, Netherlands.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Commentary: Hate, Bigotry Thrive in Sports Despite Global Nature of Athletics

Being a successful athlete doesn't shield you from racism.

Published May 28, 2013

Black athletes, Black youth, Black people in general find life defined in stereotypical ways that we must continue to fight against. We battle against expectations that ignorant people saddle us with, expectations that hint to us that we are no better than second class — or, worse yet, no class at all.

For if we were, we wouldn’t endure their ever-ending belittling or the demeaning slights whites pepper us with: their constant demonstrations that their whiteness makes them superior than us.

Even in sports, a global environment where meritocracy should reign, color counts more than it should. In arenas and stadiums, places where our athleticism has brought us success, fame and often wealth, our white comrades will not allow us to forget that they define the world, that their rules matter more. In their eyes, we remain forever a lesser people.

Should we need a reminder, we just need to look at what’s going on in football — aka soccer — in South Africa and Europe. Black American player Jozy Altidore suffered monkey chants at a game in the Netherlands earlier this year and, last October, Chelsea Football Club captain John Terry apologized for months earlier using racially charged language to insult a Black opposing player.

It’s become somewhat of a normal thing for fans across Europe — Italy, England, Russia — to throw banana peels at Black players during games. Things have gotten so bad that a CNN blogger dubbed the racism in soccer an “epidemic.”

So coarse and vulgar are the words and actions that FIFA, the governing body of soccer, had to take notice. FIFA is close to approving a five-game ban on any player guilty of “racial abuse,” according to reports. What good will a ban do, however, when much of the bigotry comes from the bleachers, where the hate-filled language is fueled by alcohol and ignorance?

How does FIFA police stupidity?

Racism didn’t just plant its seeds on the pitch. The –ism thrives anywhere a Black athlete stars, anywhere his grotesque existence threatens white identity and white privilege. It exists in corporate boardrooms, in front offices of sports franchises here and abroad and on the greens of the world’s most picturesque country clubs.

An athlete can be as internationally known as Sergio Garcia or as below the radar as English soccer player John Terry and still make front-page headlines for language that has no place in sports.    

Victims of such bigotry confront a stark reality: Color matters. It matters when you’re Tiger Woods and on the butt end of it from a peer who makes insensitive fried chicken comments, or if you’re a Black teenager playing basketball in upstate New York who hears a pre-game chant filled with racial slurs from a team of white girls.    

Woven into all of this are those reminders reminders that, regardless of what Alan Keyes, Herman Cain and Armstrong Williams claim, whites still see Blacks as beneath them, that the ascent of Blacks is a loss of identity for whites. Against the backdrop of that ongoing commercial of white supremacy, Black athletes have had to endure the most extreme abuses.

History showed us those extremes through up-close looks into the lives of Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Curt Flood, Tommie Smith, Henry Aaron, Arthur Ashe and Samuel Eto’o.

We can say all of this racism toward Black athletes died in sports’ yesteryear, and some of it did. But what do we say now, in the new millennium, when racism revisits us in the form of Tiger Woods and fried chicken?

Who the hell ordered seconds?  

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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  (Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Written by Justice B. Hill


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