The intention of this chapter is to comprehend and evaluate the experiences of black athletes. The first part of this chapter will examine the interviews which Cashmore conducted with black footballers in the 1980’s with particular attention given to the main factors which he identifies as contributing factors leading blacks into the sport. The second part of the segment, however, may focus on more recent incidents which have taken place within football. This will permit a comparison of the changing experiences of black footballers in terms of abuse from fans, fellow players and others.
In Cashmore’s book Black Sportsmen, he considers several variables that have shaped blacks and have led to their choice to join the world of sport. Firstly, Cashmore is attempting to explain and empathise with the propensity to be dysfunctional among black communities. How many African/Caribbean children have a single parent, usually a mum, raised in a dysfunctional home? The kid appears to search out a father figure at 13 or 14 years of age. In many cases, this results in them building a relationship with their coaches. This relationship/bond usually lasts until the child becomes an adult and is ready to face the real world on their own. “The surrogate father guides his protégé through his turbulent teens into his twenties when he develops into a mature and secure sportsman with an abundance of technique and conviction challenging enough to take him to success” (Cashmore, 1982: 79).
The majority of afro/Caribbean children did enter sport through the encouragement and support received from coaches and trainers. However, it was only a small proportion that became successful as they held the vital physical assets such as strength and speed.
In essence, black parents tended to neglect their child’s development in sport. They generally offered no encouragement and at times made it obvious that they had no interest in sport. Carlos Francis (black footballer) commented on the influence of his parents: “They’ve never even seen me play. They gave me no encouragement at all and didn’t even realise I was so into football. Even now they don’t take an active interest” (Cashmore, 1982:81). As Cashmore goes on to explain the reasons behind the lack of support, he elaborates on the fact that black parents tend to be pre-occupied in maintaining a material existence, and trying their very best to make ends meet. Most parents were uneducated; when they migrated over they had taken up the work that was made available to them. These roles typically involved long hours, sometimes having to work unsocial hours under cheap labour and they certainly had to make a physical input. What Cashmore is trying to suggest is that even though some parents may have had an interest in their child’s progression in sport, they were fairly restricted in spending time with their child. After a hard day at work they had no energy, also they were struggling financially.
On the other hand there are those parents who ‘push’ their child into sport and will go to any extent to ensure their child is receiving the best possible support. They are formally known as the sports parents, a mass amount of these parents are white. They totally support their offspring’s passion in sport; this can be seen both financially and morally. They had a close watch on theirs, too, child’s progression, attended meetings, matches and consulted with coaches and trainers.
Another key point Cashmore makes is that black people, through stories, believe that they have no other option but to enter sport as a means to achieve something. For example, “…black kids tell each other stories about how difficult it is to get a decent job if you are black and, in a self-fulfilling way, it does become difficult.” (Cashmore, 1982: 86).
The emphasis here is that racism in the employment sector is not as much of a limiting issue as the tendency for blacks to resort to the self-fulfilling prophecy that they can only succeed through sport. The black children are constantly told by others around them that there is no way they will succeed in more ‘educated’ roles and it may be true that they eventually come to believe this. This then leads to parents putting more emphasis on their children to be well educated in order to improve their employment prospects.
One other variable Cashmore talks about in relation to black sportsmen’s success is the ‘push’ from the schoolteachers.
“…the initial influence comes from teachers. They still have a critical position to perform in the transitional process of moving from casual, playful flirtation to serious, sometimes intense involvement.” (Cashmore, 1982: 99).
Therefore, teachers can be seen as the people who direct or guide the children in sports and their limits within sport. There is also an idea of teachers having expectations that black children will fail academically. So what remains is the prospect of entering sport to achieve any sort of career or finance.
To sum up, black children have the experiences of parental pressure and teacher expectations, which dictate their career development. Today it may be different for those black children deciding to enter sport. There are more opportunities through education (courses), more financial help from the government (grants, sponsors) and a growing number of black role models in the media and government other than in sport. For example, figures such as Barak Obama, the current President of the United States, the king of pop Michael Jackson and the activist Nelson Mandela clearly indicate to black children that they do not necessarily have to narrow their career to sport.
Cashmore bases his assumptions of parental and teacher influences on the interviews he conducted with various black athletes. For example, in the foreword by Garth Crooks, he states how teachers assume black children will be good at sports but will perform poorly academically. He also talks about the West-Indian values that are brought into this society and how the children are to be ‘seen but not heard’, a very traditional perspective. His experiences of racism in the field were similar to those of other black footballers of the time (where it was common to experience hostilities from oppositional players and crowds). In contrast, Justin Fashanu believes that black people are naturally gifted in sport. He believes that people are conditioned to believe this over many years. He suggests, “…I could run faster than anyone else…I think blacks were designed to use our speed and agility…” (Cited in Cashmore, 1982:57). Finally, Cyrille Regis experienced such verbal abuse as ‘black bastard’ but he states that he, “…learn[t] to absorb those kind of things…I hear it from the terraces a lot.” (Cited in Cashmore, 1982:151).
Regis’ strategy with the abuse was to absorb or ignore the fans and others in order to present himself as a good role model to younger black children. Regis explains that the racism he experienced may have been due to him replacing a white player. So the experiences of black players, based on Cashmore’s interviews suggested that as black people they are instantly viewed to be sport-focused. The players, as expected, are racially abused by supporters but learn to deal with this in their own ways.
Summarising the events of Afro/ Caribbean players, their entry into football has not been an easy road, as can be heard in the comments taken from Garth Crooks; “When I became a professional footballer at Stoke, I had to do that little better than the equivalent White kid…. I have experienced racialism in football from other players and from crowds and in society generally. But I was prepared for it and like other Black sportsmen; I’ve had to prove myself.”
It can be said that racism is clearly an issue that pervades in the football fields around the world. Football players, officials and fans alike have been victims of racism because of the color of their skin, their nationality, heritage, ethnicity and even religion. In the last few years, some groups of people such as the blacks have been the target of more intense scrutiny as compared to other groups. Despite the efforts of the football associations to eradicate racism in this sport, blacks are still subject to more harsh treatments as compared to their counterparts. This is particularly true of sports such as football, where sports clubs and even managers have been accused of racism in general terms. In fact, even the fans themselves have been accused of using racist abuse and racist slurs against some players (Jarvie, 1995).
At least in the 1980s, as vast numbers of black players begin to join the English football leagues, the past of this bias is traced to, and it was normal to hear team managers and other team officials claim that blacks had a lot of talent in terms of their game, but they lacked the confidence that other players had (Jarvie, 1995). This were definitely racial statements, but at the moment, nobody paid any attention to them. This is addressed by Szymanski (2000), who states that this bias issue is not finished yet. Currently, with the fans of the game in an accessible way, it has become more obvious (Moran, 2000).
While football is the world’s most common sport, it is still dominated by long-standing prejudices and fans’ stereotypes (Carrington and McDonald, 2001). The notion of assumptions and prejudices has definitely taken a backseat in the modern world of course, precisely because social sciences have increasingly improved education, comprehension and understanding. Such problems can nevertheless, emerge very strongly in moments of passion. It is necessary to explore how and why prejudice presents itself in football and explain how racism in football impacts the game, the players and the supporters.
The fundamental explanation why supporters are racist is directly linked to the hooligan mentality that has evolved in England along with football. A secondary explanation, as defined by Crabbe (2004), is the higher degree of bigotry in general when it comes to regions with large immigrant population levels. Of note, regulation is in force and several associations have introduced disciplinary steps to correct the attitudes of athletes and supporters who have participated in racial behaviour (Carrington and McDonald, 2001). Because of discriminatory behaviour, teams were punished and spectators were expelled, but this would not be enough to eradicate the evil of bigotry from the sport.
The analysis done by Crabbe (2004) in relation to racism indicates that football officials would rather ignore the issue rather than try to solve it. Even though the situation concerning racism from fans and players against other professional players in England has improved, it still leaves a lot to be desired. Describing the situation, he says that:
“In England, the cradle of football hooliganism, the debate over racism in football has evolved. Overt racism among supporters and abuse directed at black players, both of which flourished in the 1970s and 1980s, have declined steeply in recent years in the face of vociferous public campaigning, though residual prejudices against foreign players have evidently been unaffected (Crabbe, 2004, p. 38).”
So while the home grown minority population players have achieved some level of acceptance, foreign players still face a lot of issues when coming to play in a stadium which is full of hostility against them. For example, players such as Vieira were singled out for racist comments not because of being black, but because he is a Frenchman. The same issue was faced by other French super stars such as Emmanuel Petit and Eric Cantona (Crabbe, 2004). Being foreign is apparently worse than being black when it comes to modern football.
The experience of the players has certainly been mixed simply because what may seem like a racist comment to one player could actually be nothing more than a joke for another. For example Vieira was playing against West Ham in a match where a defender for West Ham called him a French prat and said that he could smell the garlic. While the association fined the player and asked for disciplinary action, Harry Red Knapp, the manager for West Ham said that such fines were taking things too far as the defender was only making a joke. According to the manager, the statement was just sporting banter and should not be taken seriously by anyone (Crabbe, 2004).
It seems that the management of some clubs and even the players themselves do not understand the issues surrounding the debate. This means that is it even more unlikely that the fans will understand the issues. Disciplinary measures, fines or even punitive actions will not have a serious impact since the fans will not be quieted down nor will the players be silent when it comes to using racist banter. As described by Burdsey (2004), racism can be expected to plague football until concrete steps are taken which can remove racism itself from our social system.
Even beyond England, when we consider the stadiums of Europe, football matches become places where fans as well as players are free to show their bigotry. In fact, Crabbe (2004) suggests that the sport of football becomes an outlet through which sporting rivalry is converted into racist ideals that are usually kept dormant or hidden by society in general. The rivalries run high and the passions held by the fans are quite strong about a sport such as football. Therefore, racist comments will continue until the very social fabric is altered to a point where racism becomes a thing of the past.
Most incidents of racism occur during the height of the game. All across Europe, incidents of racism especially among blacks is common. Highly charged people often chant racist remarks that irk the crown and cause a lot of disturbance during the game. One of the latest famous incidents of racism in football involving black players happened in April 2009 to a Football Club Internazionale Milano SpA player Mario Balotelli, a black Italian football player. The fans of the opposing team, the Juventus Football Club S.p.A., allegedly made abusive racial remarks against Balotelli during the match (www.rueters.com, 19 April 2009). To settle the incident amicably, the officials of the game agreed to grant the Internazionale one home game fan ban (www.bbc.co.uk, 20 April 2009). Although this incident was settled swiftly, we cannot really say that this is the end of racial abuse at the football field. History tells us that racial abuse in the football field has been around for many years. Year after year, controversies involving black players play center stage in some major matches. For instance, in March 2008, black players of the French side including Andrei Ayew, Charles Kabore and Ronald Zubar were the target of racist chants from the fans of Zenit Saint Petersburg (Joachim Barbier, 13 March 2008). The nice part about this occurrence is the fact that the police intervened and warned the crowd against making antagonistic comments against the players (Joachim Barbier, 13 March 2008). The timely intervention of the police prevented any untoward incidents in this case.
Racism involving Zenit Saint Petersburg happens often. According to the coach of Zenit, Dich Advocaat, their club’s supporters have biases against black people and one fan even asked if Mathiue Valbuena is a “negro” (www. bb.co.uk, 12 May 2008). Clearly, some people are not comfortable with the idea of having a black man play under their favorite team and that it itself is an indication that racism is very much alive among sports fanatics. According to Serge Branco who is a black player from the Republic of Cameroon, he hears racist insults against black payers each time he plays in St. Petersburg and that during most of these incidents, the people who are running the club did not do anything to stop the crowd from making such racist comments (Will Stewart, 3 May 2008). Incidents like this make people wonder if some of the well known football clubs are racist too. Branco pointed out that the fact that the management of the club did not do anything to stop the people from making comments against him because he is black which made him suspect that the club management itself has biases against the color of his skin (Will Stewart, 3 May 2008).
Many black football players suffered personal insults due to the color of their skin. Samuel Eto’o who is originally from the Republic of Cameroon in Africa has suffered more than his share of racism in the football field. When he played for the Spanish La Liga Club FC Barcelona in 2005, he suffered from racial taunts from some Real Zaragoza spectators. During this match for the FC Barcelona, Eto’o has to contend with monkey chants from the audience every time he gets the ball. Some people even throw peanuts onto the pitch to taunt him. Good thing that Eto’o has a sense of humor so when his team won the match, he danced like a monkey on the field. During an interview, he said that he danced like a monkey on the field because the fans of the opposing team treated him like a monkey (Kelso, Paul; Giles Tremlett, 19 November 2004). In a separate interview, Eto’o commented that he does not like to take his children to football matches because of the racial slurs that people often make during these matches (www.bbc.co.uk, 4 April 2007). This is really sad considering how much his children would love to see their father play football. To fight off racial discrimination during football matches, Eto’o suggested that players who feel that they have been discriminated against by fans should walk out from the game (www.bbc.co.uk, 7 May 2007). Of course, this suggestion is easier said than done. Players who want their teams to win would certainly want to hang around and continue playing despite taunting from the crowds.
Another black player who is often a subject of racist comments during a football match is Ghana-born German Gerald Asamoah. The most recent racist attack against Asamoah came from the Borussia Dorthmund goalkeeper Roman Weiderfeller. During a football match, Weidenfeller allegedly called Asamoah a “black pig” (www.bbc.co.uk, 19 August 2007). In a friendly football match at Hansa Rostack club in 2006, Asamoah also suffered from verbal abuse due to the color of his skin. The Hansa Rostack Club was later slapped with a fine of $25,000.00 for making racist comments against Asamoah (www.bbc.co.uk, 14 September 2006).
Another incident of racism involving a football club and its fans happened sometime in March 2008. Fans of the Serbian football club, the Fudbalski klub Borac Čačak, attacked Solomom Opoku, a player from Ghana. Six of the attackers were later on arrested and four of them faced charges (www.bbc.co.uk, 10 March 2008). Despite the fact that people were charged during the incident, we cannot really be sure that these same kinds of incidents will not happen to another black player in the future. When people become highly emotionally charged during a football match, they do something that often disrupts the peace. The attack on Solomon Opoku is a clear example of how people can become violent during and after a highly heated football game.
Like many football club matches around Europe, friendly matches between countries have not escaped the scandals of racism. A notable incident of racism against black players happened on March 24, 2007 during a friendly football match between France and Lithuania. Lithuanian fans and supportors unfurled a banner which taunted the black players of the French team (Football Against Racism in Europe, 30 March 2007). Painted on the banner is a map of Africa with the French flags stamped over it. A slogan that says “Welcome to Europe” was also written on the banner. Many people see this act as offensive and a direct insult against the black players.
The many incidents of racism against black football players go on and on. Despite efforts on the part of football officials to eradicate racism during football matches, racial abuses are still difficult to stop. We have to understand that fans and players tend to become emotional during highly charged games. In the heat of the moment, some people may cross the boundaries of decency and say things that are offensive. To stop racial discrimination against black players, there is a need to educate people more about equality. Until such time when people see others as their equal no matter what the color of his skin is, racial abuse will continue to occur in the football field Burdsey (2004), however, concludes that the problem is with the social setup in Europe. He dictates how impossible it is to identify one racist individual within a crowd of thousands of fans. It may be easier to spot a racist in a team of twenty players but more difficult to prove it. He writes, “While we know that there is racism in football, do we really know exactly where, how and by whom it is instigated? (Burdsey, 2004, p. 297)”. The simplest answer is that we do not know who instigates it therefore it is very difficult to punish someone for the crime. However, it can be hoped that as the world becomes more enlightened, racism in every area of life will no longer affect us as a society.