This series takes a look at the global issue of racism in sports, searches for answers to explain our racial and cultural differences, and focuses on travel as a way to heal our sports, culture, and world. Check out part II Minorities in sports, world history, and the healing power of travel and part III Travel can heal racism, cultural differences in sports.
90,000 people scream with passion and excitement. Although I was a part of the crowd, I didn’t understand anything they said. We weren’t from the same country and didn’t speak the same language. Yet I felt a bond with strangers in a foreign land in which no words were required.
As a white guy wearing a jersey, I stood out from the rest of the crowd. However, that didn’t matter on this night. For one evening, I felt like a Catalan as we joined together, connected by our love of the game, and a passion for “our team.” We cheered for the same players and the same jersey even though we were from different countries and spoke a different language.
Sports, passion, and travel have a way of uniting cultures and bringing people together. Like those football fans in Barcelona, the language I speak or the words I share aren’t important when it comes to sports – it’s the connection with others through the experience that matters. Both at home and abroad, I’ve learned that sports can be a great way to connect with the local culture when traveling.
As great as my experience was, this isn’t always the case. Sadly, sports can divide people due to cultural differences and racism. In a world where we are becoming more interdependent and global, sports can still be a place where many people are divided – players and fans alike.
The world of soccer, or football, is a sad example of the racism and cultural divide that still exists today.
Racism in football and sports
Luis Suarez, an Argentinian football player who plays for Liverpool, was recently banned for 8 matches for using a racial slur against Manchester United’s Patrice Evra, a black football player from France.
Although it was agreed by all parties (Evra, the FA, and Suarez) that he was not a racist, he still used a racial slur. This came from a man who has played all over the world, with people of all colors in various continents, and has a grandfather who was black.
If this was an isolated incident, maybe it could be overlooked and judged as a sad mistakes on the part of one player. However, this is far common than it should be in an international game (or any sport).
Recently, another case has been brought against Chelsea football player John Terry (captain of the team) for his comments directed towards fellow footballer Anton Ferdinand. Terry will stand trial over racism charges after the Euro 2012 championships.
The fallout from this has impacted the entire country of England. As a result of these charges, John Terry was stripped of his captain role for the England national team by the FA (England Football Association). Due to the manner in which this was handled, England manager Fabio Capello quit.
This week, British PM David Cameron met with a group to discuss racism in football. He warned against a return of the dark days of racism in football and urged all sides to put an end to this.
Maybe the problem only exists in England? However, a look at the world of football shows this problem is everywhere.
This week UEFA launched an investigation into the football club Porto (Portugal) where fans may have issued racial slurs towards Manchester City footballer Mario Balotelli. In the Netherlands, many of the players reported that they have experienced racism in the sport including chants towards the Ajax team bus stating “Jews to the gas chamber.”
Racism in European football exists everywhere and occurs far too often than it should among players and fans. However, the world of football isn’t the only sport experiencing racism.
This week, UFC boss Dana White called Floyd Mayweather a racist. Last week, ESPN used a derogatory ethnic slur talking about New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin referring to his Asian heritage. While the headline was meant to be humorous, it resulted in one person getting fired and embarrassment for one of the biggest sports media companies in the world.
While the United States has come a long way from the racism and segregation during the Civil Rights days, players still deal with racism in football, basketball, baseball, and various other sports as well. We are not immune.
An international playing field
Today, the sports world is more international and global than ever. Players from all over the world join together on teams to compete together and against one another. The bonds formed as a result of sports are strong and beyond what many people may experience in their lives.
The best mens’ tennis players in the world hail from Serbia, Spain, and Switzerland. In football/soccer, the best team comes from Spain – a country that has worked hard to unite its people and its players from regions with different cultures, languages, and a violent past.
In cricket, India and Pakistan are among the elite. In baseball, the best teams are in the United States. The best players are still American – but most of them are Latin American. Canadians are passionate about hockey but there are some great teams and players from Europe and Russia too.
Look a little deeper at the world of gymnastics, skiing, rugby, and the world of sports becomes even more global.
All over the world, we see players from various countries and all walks of life scoring goals, putting a ball in the basket, hitting homeruns, and scoring touchdowns. They celebrate together as a team, hugging, giving high fives, and winning championships.
Honestly, one of my favorite things about watching sports is seeing a black man and white man embrace in the celebration of a game winning shot, hit, goal, basket, or touchdown. I enjoy watching two opponents from different countries and cultures showing respect and admiration for one another in victory or defeat.
As I traveled around the country on my College Football Travel Tour, I have met people from all walks of life in Seattle, Columbia, and Annapolis. And it’s the people that I’ve met through sports and travel that have helped me gain a greater appreciation for the world around me. College football fans and my travels give me hope.
We’ve made some great strides in the global game of life and competition. Yet coming together, crossing the global divide, and uniting cultures and colors through sports have still led to a racial and cultural chasm. Many big steps lie ahead if we are to heal the wounds of culture and race in sports and the world in which we live.
In part II, we will explore the reasons why racism and animosity towards other cultures exist and see how travel can heal wounds and bring together people of all colors and cultures.
Have you experienced racism in sports or in your travels?