This series takes a look at the global issue of racism in sports (with a focus on football/soccer), 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 I of Sports, racism, and the healing power of travel and part II Minorities in sports, world history, and the healing power of travel.
When I was a little kid, I loved the game of baseball. From the age of five, my dream was to play professional baseball. While I never realized those dreams, I was able to earn a starting position on my high school baseball team.
During my junior year, we had a black guy from the football team try out for the baseball team. He wasn’t a good baseball player but he was very fast. So there were times he would pinch run and steal a base.
He was easily the fastest guy on the team and although he didn’t hit or read pitchers well, he could run. After he graduated, he earned a scholarship to play football in college.
During that season, all the guys encouraged him and he was great to have on the team. At school, private parties, or small groups, some of these teammates would still refer to certain black people (not necessarily him) as ‘niggers’.
Many years later, I know some of my teammates still live in the same town or area where I went to school. I am not sure if many of them have traveled much other than vacations to the beach or mountains.
Not traveling isn’t the reason for their racism or their racist terms. However, traveling could help us learn more about people of different colors, cultures, and religions.
Travel can even heal racism.
Sports and racism in the 21st century
Fast forward 20 years and the world has changed a lot. The world is at our fingertips via the internet. We can talk to our neighbor across the street or online with friends on the other side of the world.
To borrow a line from Vegas, “what happens here, stays here” may have been true twenty years ago. However, what happens in Africa, Europe, and Asia can have huge effects here in America too.
So in a more globally connected world, has racism diminished in the world of sports?
The fact that we are more connected, various cultures blend together, and our sports are more global, the instinctive answer would be “yes.”
Unfortunately, cultures collide, the passion of sports can still divide, and the global connections may mix as well as oil and water. Racism is still a big issue in the world of sports.
In a recent basketball game in San Antonio, a mostly white boys basketball team defeated a team of mostly Hispanic players and celebrated by chanting “USA! USA!” The opening weekend of the 2012 NCAA men’s basketball tournament heard racist chants of “Where’s your green card?” directed at a Puerto Rican born American player for Kansas State by Southern Miss basketball fans.
In a recent soccer match, fans threw bananas at Brazil’s Roberto Carlos yet claimed that it wasn’t racist (who brings bananas to a soccer match?). Even in Romania, popular football club Steau Bucharest owner Gigi Becali wants all foreigners off the team as he seeks to build a team comprised of Romanians only. In reference to club and rivals Cluj, which has 18 foreign born players, Becali states “you will never see us being like CFR Cluj.”
Maybe the world of sports only reflects the growing tensions between cultures, religions, and countries seen by our countries, governments, and regimes.
Muslims against Christians, terrorism, multi-culturalism, genocide in Africa, and nuclear tensions with countries like North Korea and Iran don’t just put country against country. Instead, media reports and government propaganda create bias and tension between people and cultures that have never met.
The solution to these problems isn’t negotiation, peace, or avoiding war.
It’s time for travel to heal the world.
Rick Steves breaks down the cultural walls in Iran
In the midst of escalating tensions with the country and President Ahmadinejad, Rick sought to break down the cultural walls and show the Iranian people as they really are.
Rick discovered that the Iranian people share the values and ways of life as many Americans. Contrary to what the media tells us, the people don’t hate us. Instead, people were curious and welcoming to this American while wondering what he was doing there.
Propaganda against America and the West was everywhere as many people didn’t approve of the US government or President. However, at any point in time, half of America will feel the same way about their own President.
“Death to America” is a slogan that stirs up resentment, fear, and anger in the hearts of many Americans. Yet Iranian drivers could be overheard yelling “death to traffic” as well.
Murals celebrate victories over the west and hatred towards America. Yet an Iranian woman serves cookies in a bookstore and offers a free book to Rick.
Our images, news reports, and stereotypes of foreign people and cultures that we don’t understand may not reflect reality.
This trip to Iran was a journey into his soul as Rick connected with Iranians, sought to understand their culture, and immersed himself in history. His experiences in Iran waged war with his perceptions and stereotypes. And as he left Iran, he summed up his experiences this way:
“After this experience, I’m reminded of the fundamental value as well as the simple fun of travel. When we travel — whether to a land our president has declared part of an “Axis of Evil,” or just to a place where people yodel when they’re happy or fight bulls to impress the girls or can’t serve breakfast until today’s croissants arrive — we enrich our lives and better understand our place on this planet. It’s my hope that with people-to-people connections, we can overcome our fear and mistrust of each other, and, at a minimum, learn to co-exist peacefully”
For more on Rick Steves’ experiences and thoughts on his trip, check out his Iran travel journal.
Travel can heal racism and cultural differences in the world
Without a doubt, Iran and the US have their differences – both political and cultural. There will be some things on which we may never agree.
However, walking in another man’s shoes allows us to see things from his perspective. This understanding may not lead to agreement but it can lead to respect, admiration, and a bond realizing that we may have far more in common than we may have ever imagined.
Rick Steves isn’t the only one seeking to break through these cultural barriers. Travelers all over the world are going to places like Iran, China, North Korea, and other enemies of the West. And I dare you to read their stories and not see these people and places differently.
Dan and Audrey of Uncornered Market ventured on a trip to Iran as well and were moved to tears, treated like rock stars, and had their lives and perspectives changed by the people they met. Read the stories of conversations with Iranians on a train and a poem to the Iranian people.
Warning: Your views on Iran, the people, and the culture may be turned upside down.
With the death of Kim Jong-Il, North Korea is in a transition period. However, this communist dictator was easily public enemy number 1 in the West, long before Ahmadinejad came along. With all the propaganda and arrogance of the North Korean leader, hating North Korea is an easy thing to do.
Michael Turtle had the chance to visit the country while Kim Jong-Il was still in power. To say that people were ruled with an iron fist and constantly reminded of the supreme leader’s greatness would be pretty accurate.
However, Michael gives us a glimpse at life in North Korea and shows us how tough it can be to live and work in this country. You can’t help but have compassion and hope for the people of this nation as they offered Michael a smile.
You don’t need to go to Iran or North Korea to bridge the cultural divide. You can start by talking with your neighbor, lending a helping hand on a volunteer mission, or experiencing other countries and cultures in the world through travel.
Racism in sports and society is the result of closed minds and societies. For years, European nations consisted of people of like color and culture. People were used to similar lifestyles and ways of life. Now, the doors are thrown wide open and people are dealing with integration, multi-culturalism, and religion like never before.
In a globally connected world, these same issues are ones we all face.
When Osama bin Laden was killed, people around the world reacted in different ways. For me, I didn’t look at his death from a West point of view (a victory over terrorism) or an extremist point of view (a call to revenge). I realized how travel can change the world.
In the world of sports, the answers are the same. There is good in the world of sports as it brings people of race, culture, or religion together united in a common cause. The passion and culture of sports has a way of unifying us and connecting us with people all over the world.
However, people around the world are different. This can be the cause of the greatest wars and destruction on earth or the most beautiful portrait of humanity that ever existed.
Travel teaches us that there is beauty to be found in places other than where we live. Travel shows us that people love their homes, families, friends, and lives as much as we love our own.
Like sports, travel reminds us that we can find common ground and be unified by a common goal. We must seek to find what we have in common rather than let our differences divide us. We may not always agree but we can seek to understand by walking in another man’s shoes, sandals, or bare feet.
Above all, travel teaches us that love and respect can always win out over war, cultural differences, and racism.
What have you learned from traveling that can bring people and cultures together?