Jogo Racista

It's ultimately up to the players themselves to stamp out racism in sports.

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Jogo Racista

The beauty of the game is indelibly stained when players condone racism.

The beauty of the game is indelibly stained when players condone racism.

photo by Meg Rees

The beauty of the game is indelibly stained when players condone racism.

photo by Meg Rees

photo by Meg Rees

The beauty of the game is indelibly stained when players condone racism.

By Jonathan Ross, North Allegheny Senior High School

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Earlier this month, in a non-section Labor Day soccer match, Allderdice players alleged that they had been verbally attacked by their opponents from the Connellsville School District. The Connellsville team supposedly targeted  Latino and African-American Allderdice players with racial slurs during the game. Allerdice parents have circulated an open petition to WPIAL, and Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent, Anthony Hamlet, said that the administration has filed a complaint with WPIAL. In response, the WPIAL board has called representatives from both schools to look into what happened on the field that day.

It’s important to grant credit where credit is due — after all, investigation and remediation are half the battle. But it’s still just that: half-finished, half-baked, half-done. 

I’ve been playing soccer for 15 years now, and I still remember the very first league that I played in. We met on the field below NASH every Saturday, teams were largely impromptu, and the technicalities of offsides, penalties, and even out-of-bounds were looked at as suggestions rather than rules. Beyond the suboptimal quality of play, and aside from the occasional toddler tantrum, the field was special. As 3 and 4-year-olds, we hadn’t learned hate. Sure, I was known to celebrate a little too much after goals, and I was once football-tackled for dribbling too much, but there was no hate, much less racism or prejudice. 

Racism is simply and undebatably destructive. It is destructive on the field and off the field; it is destructive at any age, level, and experience; and it muddies the cleats of everyone involved.”

Even as I got older — as players began to pick up on their opponents’ differences — the beauty of the game always overcame the ugliness, because the love of our sport was far more uniting than hate was dividing. Which is why, when I hear of racism at sporting event, I’m outraged. There’s a certain level of lawlessness and rowdiness expected in a sports arena, particularly when tempers flare in a rivalry, but the pure malicious intent behind racial slurs is simply and utterly despicable. 

When I heard this story, though, anger wasn’t my initial reaction. Instead, I felt sadness and empathy for the Allderdice players. There’s no better feeling, at least for me, than playing and winning a soccer game. Whether it’s an entirely unimpactful scrimmage or the largest championship game of your career, there’s a certain safety and validation found in doing something you love. It deeply saddens me to think that ignorance and hate can permeate even this sanctuary, and not just for the targeted players. 

At age 13,  I had the privilege of playing soccer at one of the most prestigious tournaments in the country. One of our games was against one of the dozen best teams in the country. While we eventually won, the experience was ultimately ruined by one of my teammates, who was ejected on the grounds of racism. While my team and I apologized profusely to our opponents, it was clear that our words made little difference because of the words of our ignorant teammate. The game was ruined, deeply and personally ruined, because of the insouciant slurs of our teammate. Neither side was proud, neither side was happy to be there. And that’s exactly what hate does. It divides us. 

The repercussions of boorish racism don’t stop at one person or at the edge of the field. They truly permeate the game and all of its players. This isn’t the perspective of a selfish white boy, either. Racism is simply and undebatably destructive. It is destructive on the field and off the field; it is destructive at any age, level, and experience; and it muddies the cleats of everyone involved.

WPIAL can investigate, and the parents can petition, but in the end, it’s the players who have to change the game. For the love of joga bonita, the beautiful game, the players must treat each other with respect and maintain the dignity of the sport. Which is why, when Allderdice comes to play us this Saturday, I wish them the best of luck. And with the utmost respect, I will do my best to crush them. 

This story was originally published on The Uproar on September 20, 2019.