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A word on soccer fans and racism

You can say many things about Mario Balotelli, almost all of them ridiculous or absurd, but give the man credit: when it comes to racism, he seems to be strangely calm and collected.

Just a week after his own club’s vice president used a racist and derogatory slur to refer to Balotelli, poor Super Mario faced yet another inferno at his own stadium, as traveling Inter Milan fans waved inflated bananas at him whilst serenading him with unprintable obscenities.  Balotelli’s reputation would have him blow up Paolo Berlusconi, the vice president in question, with a massive fireworks explosion. Instead, he shook Berlusconi’s hand and tried to use the moment as a teaching tool for those who are unaware of the consequences of opening their mouths.

Similarly, watching the film of the Milan derby, I couldn’t help but expect another “Malice at the Palace”-style debacle (“Strangulation at the San Siro,” anyone?). Instead, Balotelli reigned in his temper, nearly scored three goals (he ended up with zero, but that is hardly the point) and, when the racist outpouring got unbearable, he faced the crowd and shushed them with poise. Heady stuff from one of soccer’s biggest wildcards.

Ironically, this latest travesty comes on the heels of another Milan player, Kevin-Prince Boateng, walking off the pitch in protest when he was the target of racist abuse in another Serie A match. Meanwhile, if the story of the league seasons in many countries hasn’t been the drama (high everywhere except the Bundesliga, where Bayern Munich looks unbeatable) or the refereeing (universally poor as always), it has been the hideous racist abuse that continues to worm its way into the beautiful game.

Pick a league, any league! I guarantee that a player has been abused racially at some point this season, despite the best efforts of the powers that try to halt this malignant behavior. Whether it’s a low-level second division cup match or a European Cup competition, somehow racism rears its ugly head at all levels. That unpleasant truth makes me sick to my stomach.

I’m of the opinion that racism has no place in the world, period, and I challenge you to find a logical way to disagree with that statement. One’s skin color or birthplace or religion or name should have no bearing on how he or she is treated in the real world. And yet, soccer fans across Europe and the world continue to display a staggering disregard for basic human equality.

Does being a sports fanatic vindicate stooping to the level of racist taunting, legitimized because it is to “help” your team achieve victory? There comes a point when even the most hardcore fans must draw the line. Racism should be well on the inaccessible side of that line. Losing your humanity is not worth whatever it is that you think you may gain from it.

The scary thing is that these racist taunts show no signs of stopping, despite the existence of numerous organizations like Kick It Out that try to eliminate racism from soccer. What does that say about us as human beings? Do all soccer fans secretly harbor racist sentiments deep inside their guts? Or is the mob psychology of attending a soccer game enough to suck in non-racist folks to chant loudly and proudly? Quite frankly, I have no idea how to answer the previous question, and I’m not sure that I want to hear the answer.

The simple take-away message is this: if you are a fan and someone next to you is doing something racially insensitive or wrong, give them a good smack upside the head and tell them to cut it out. If you are a fan and are the one actually doing something improper, then please go get help. I have nothing more to say.

Join Viggy in smacking people upside the head and tell him about it at viggy@stanford.edu.