“Mo Salah, Mo Salah, running down the wings. Salah, the Egyptian King” sing the Kop, and it’s rapturous. Mohamed Salah, one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2019, has just scored a goal on an absolute rope to make it 2-0 Liverpool against Chelsea on April 14, 2019. Liverpool’s home stadium, Anfield, whips into a frenzy, and the collective joy reverberates even through a TV screen. Salah’s celebration is unique: he runs toward the Kop, pulls up, and holds a standing yoga pose for a second before he’s mobbed by his teammates.
Days earlier, a video made the rounds on social media showing a few Chelsea supporters singing a racist song about Salah (who is Egyptian and Muslim), calling him, among other horrible things, a “bomber.” Both Chelsea and Liverpool quickly condemned the chant, and the fans were subsequently banned from Chelsea matches. Many took Salah’s yoga pose celebration as a message of peace in the midst of vitriol; his calm (and his goal) in the wake of hate spoke for itself.
Only a few weeks before, during a match between Italian sides Juventus and Cagliari, black players on Juventus were the target of racist jeers and monkey sounds for much of the game. Moise Kean, a nineteen-year-old Italian of Ivorian descent, scored in the eighty-fifth minute to seal a Juventus victory. After his goal, he stood defiant in front of the Cagliari fans with his arms open wide. The monkey noises intensified. Afterward, the captain and the manager of Juventus put some of the blame on Kean for “provoking” the racist response from the Cagliari fans. They quickly walked back their comments after a severe backlash from players and journalists across Europe, but their ignorance was already uncovered. There’s no putting toothpaste back into the tube.
These two images, Salah at peace and Kean defiant, are only snapshots of the player response to an ever-growing issue in European soccer. Racist behavior has ramped up around the continent in the form of chants, banana skins thrown on the pitch, and racist banners. The players targeted have responded incredibly: with goals, defiance, and loud calls for clubs and leagues to systematically eradicate racist behavior. Clubs have done their best, but the problem lies in the fact that racism runs deeper than soccer.
You may have been unaware of all the racism surfacing in European soccer, but it shouldn’t sound unfamiliar. In American sports, a Utah Jazz fan was recently banned for life after allegedly telling Russell Westbrook to “get down on his knees like he’s used to.” That incident has prompted players around the league to speak out against racism, both overt and covert, in the NBA, and especially in the stands.
Here is maybe the most pertinent question in light of all this: are these isolated incidents perpetuated by select racists, or are they moments indicative of a broader societal ill? We’d probably hope to argue the former, but this stuff just keeps happening. What feels most discouraging is how pervasive racism has become; these public displays only highlight what many experience on a day-to-day basis. As racism is played out on the biggest sporting stages in the world, it paints a depressing picture of our world. Enough of this.
I’m struggling with how to end these reflections. I’ve written and deleted three paragraphs. So I’ll use words from Kyle Korver, a white player on the Utah Jazz who recently wrote an essay on privilege in The Players’ Tribune. “The fact that inequality is built so deeply into so many of our most trusted institutions is wrong. And I believe it’s the responsibility of anyone on the privileged end of those inequalities to help make things right…Thanks for reading. Time for me to shut up and listen.”
Brad Zwiers (’12) graduated from Calvin College in 2012 and Western Theological Seminary in 2015. He will not be graduating from any more schools. He often stares at books he wishes he could read but knows he will not finish and goes for long walks with his wife, Gwyn. Sometimes he plays basketball and always he follows the greatest sporting club in the world, Liverpool F.C.