Unfortunately, racism is nothing new in soccer, and its continued existence has perpetually plagued and marred the beautiful game.
The most recent example comes from Germany where 29-year-old star Mesut Ozil revealed that he was quitting the German national team over the constant presence of racism. Ozil, of Turkish descent, was blasted for taking a photo with Turkish President Recip Erdogan, a man who has been criticized by human rights groups and many in the west for fostering a camouflaged type of democracy which differs from the traditional type of democracy we are used to in the United States.
The backlash from that single photo, which included threats, hate mail and being called a “goat f***er” by a German politician, pushed Ozil over the edge and he decided it was time to take action.
“It is with a heavy heart and after much consideration that because of recent events, I will no longer be playing for Germany at international level while I have this feeling of racism and disrespect,” said Ozil in a Tweet. “I used to wear the German shirt with such pride and excitement, but now I don’t. I feel unwanted and think that what I have achieved since my international debut in 2009 has been forgotten.”
You could feel the pain and turmoil in Ozil’s words as his pride, passion, safety, career and manhood were all subjected to cowardly taunts, ridiculous threats and pure ignorance. It’s another demonstration of how racism and ignorance supersedes nationality, assimilation and athletic achievement.
The ugliness of racism surfaces once again to alienate and distance him from the sport and country he loves. It’s common practice for racists to immediately jump to the ethnicity of their targets when they are scared, intimidated, angry or simply need a scapegoat for a team loss or poor performance. So ballers like Romelu Lukalu goes from being a Belgian player to a Belgian player of Congolese descent.
When things were going well, I was reading newspapers articles and they were calling me Romelu Lukaku, the Belgian striker. When things werent going well, they were calling me Romelu Lukaku, the Belgian striker of Congolese descent
In this most recent instance, Ozil’s Turkish heritage was the fuel for their ignorance and they pounced on it immediately.
This has become a way too common occurrence in soccer, where the color of a player’s skin, his religious beliefs or his heritage is used against him by ignorant fans, competitors and media pundits who want to insult, intimidate and denigrate to the point where games are interrupted and suffocated by society’s ills.
But sports, politics and social issues should remain separate right?
So when will soccer as an entity take a real step towards addressing the issue it has with race and ignorance?
We have witnessed the violence happening in soccer, from fans charging on to the field to attack players and refs to the horrid stories of umpires being murdered and players executed.
The fascinating tragic stories of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar and soccer player Andres Escobar. Pablo Escobar was the richest, most powerful drug kingpin in the world, ruling the Medelln Cartel with an iron fist. Andres Escobar was the biggest soccer star in Colombia. The two were not related, but their fates were inextricably-and fatally-intertwined.
The time for soccer to find its own Colin Kaepernick has arrived.
The sport and its issues demand a figure who is willing to sacrifice and take a stand against the ignorance permeating the beautiful game. Someone who will willingly speak out against racism and social injustice and fight for change in the game. Someone who will unite players and fans to the point where they will form a phalanx against the ignorance which plagues the game and refuse to retreat in the face of hate.
Must we continue to witness players like Everton Luiz being brought to tears or Sully Muntari receiveing a yellow card for complaining about being subjected to racists taunts, eventually walking off the field in absolute disgust?
We learned about bananas being thrown at Barcelona’s Dani Alves in 2014, which he swiftly picked up, ate and jumped back into the game. We listened as Swedish midfielder Danny Durmaz recalled being called a terrorist and discussed the hate he received after his foul in the team’s World Cup game against Germany led to the goal which gave the latter the victory.
It’s gotten so bad that England’s Danny Rose told his family to stay home during the World Cup so they wouldn’t be subjected to the verbal abuse that he receives.
Both fans and players have been begging for help from politicians and governing bodies for a long time, but their cries for help have basically gone unheeded. Entering this year’s World Cup, FIFA announced it was proceeding with disciplinary actions against the Russian Football Union (RFU) in response to acts of fan racism during a match between Russian and France in March in St. Petersburg.
France, as we all know, ultimately went on the win the World Cup in Russia a few weeks ago with a team full of Black players, a further twist of the knife of irony that France dug into the backs of racist Russian soccer fans.
But more needs to happen, and much more consistently, swiftly and firmly.
Some have united in the fight against racism, including Neymar who took to Instagram to let the world know that he has the back of players like Alves.
738.3k Likes, 131.8k Comments – Nj neymarjr (@neymarjr) on Instagram: “#somostodosmacacos #weareallmonkeys #somostodosmonos #totssommonos”
But because soccer is a global game with various governing bodies and fans of all types, maybe the sport needs more than one Kaepernick. Maybe it needs players like Alves, Ozil and Neymar to organize their fellow superstars into a Justice League of soccer and establish a movement like Kap.
Not just kneeling, but making fans, leagues and media outlets uncomfortable by calling racists out and disrupting the normal flow of games so that they have to pay attention. Pool their money together, of which they have plenty, to donate to youth organizations and social causes which are fighting on the front lines against everyday racism.
Some players understand the situation, recognizing the fact that they can’t afford to “shut up and play ball” because there’s so much more at stake than scoring a goal for their team or country.
We were always told to “just play”, “be grateful” and “stay out of politics”. You have our full support @MesutOzil1088 for speaking out on your experiences and issues that are so much bigger and more important than football
It’s something that Tommie Smith and John Carlos recognized when they raised their black-gloved fists in the air 50 years ago. It’s what the Heat brought attention to by wearing hoodies, what Derek Rose recognized when he wore the “I can’t breathe” shirt during warm ups, and what Kaepernick was willing to fight for when he simply took a knee.
We have been talking about racism for years now but nothing happens,” said Pescara’s coach Zdenek Zeman, who coaches Muntari. “We need a change of mentality.
And he’s right. It’s time for soccer to change its mentality and approach to dealing with racism. It’s time for it to adopt serious policies and punishments in regards to racism. It’s time for the powers that be in the global sport to fight back against fans in blackface and those who maliciously heckle, demean and threaten.
Will they be able to conquer it all at once? Definitely not.
But like Kap, it’s time to actually do something instead of just talking about it. Put action and money towards a movement to improve society instead of just pointing trouble out or hiding behind celebrity.
It’s time the players unite and take a significant step, something which could quite possibly be accomplished through an action as simple as taking a seat on the pitch.