When The Beautiful Game Turns Ugly

ESPN pubished ann amazing essay on the intersection of soccer and racism and immigration in Italy by Wright Thompson.

The racist chants finally get to Balotelli.

He gives a rare interview to CNN, and his comments lead every sports page in Italy. The next time a soccer stadium echoes with monkey calls, he will take off his jersey and leave the field. All those years ago, at the pitch across from his house, he felt like he belonged. Now every monkey chant is pushing him away.

Boateng walked off in an exhibition game. This is different. Milan needs a win to secure a place in the Champions League, and its star player has drawn a line in the sand. The game is in two days, and Italy focuses on a single question: Will he or won't he?

Two other things happen at the same time. I don't know what they mean, but I know lines are intersecting.

Balotelli starts a Twitter feed, posting pictures and sending out messages, giving himself a public voice at last, to defend himself, to connect with people who support him.

He shaves off his mohawk.

I have always found the intersection of soccer and racism/anti-semitism to be an intriguing topic. In 2005, there was a whole section of Anne Frank House Museum dedicated to anti-semitism in Dutch soccer. The installation centered around AFC Ajax's pseudo-Jewish identity and anti-semitism.

Ajax became an unofficial Jewish club because its home stadium was located in a largely Jewish neighborhood in Amsterdam. In the 1980s rival support groups would chant "Hamas, Hamas" or "Jews to the gas.". Others would make a hissing sound (like gas filling a room).

The installation looked at how Jewish Identity (or the perception of jewish Identity) could still lead to conflict a modern, secular, pluralist Netherlands.

An interesting corollary in American soccer: Major League Soccer and the its clubs have been battling the supporters group over the homophobic/Transphoic slurs during goal kicks.