by Tim Dahlberg
AP Sports Columnist
(AP)—Oh, the things that come out of kids’ mouths.
College kids in this case, making some noise at an NCAA tournament game that will probably be their last.
“Where’s your green card?” members of the Southern Mississippi band chanted at Kansas State’s Angel Rodriguez during the Wildcats’ second-round win in Pittsburgh.
Rodriguez heard them, and later he heard an apology on behalf of them. It came from Southern Mississippi officials, and the freshman guard accepted it because “there’s ignorant people and I know that’s not how they want to represent their university.”
Write it off, if you will, as just some college students trying to be funny and failing miserably. There’s probably some truth in that, though school officials said that won’t save them from “quick and appropriate disciplinary action.”
There was certainly nothing funny a few weeks earlier at a high school game in the Pittsburgh area, when a team from a predominantly Black school said fans of a largely White school shouted “monkeys” and “cotton pickers” at them. Fans of Monessen High were also upset when two Brentwood High students ran past them while wearing banana costumes.
Isolated incidents, maybe. And we’ve certainly come a long ways from the not-so-distant days when college teams from the south were all White or when Black major league baseball players weren’t allowed to stay at the same hotel as their White teammates in certain cities.
Unfortunately, though, racism is still finding a place in sports.
We saw it recently when an ESPN employee wrote a headline about Jeremy Lin that used a word that is often used as a slur against Chinese. That, too, was supposed to be funny, though the humor was lost on ESPN executives who fired the headline writer.
And we saw it sink to a new low on Sunday when a man in Britain allegedly made racist remarks on Twitter about Bolton soccer player Fabrice Muamba, who is fighting for his life in a hospital after going into cardiac arrest and collapsing during an FA Cup match. That not only outraged soccer fans, but got the man from south Wales arrested on charges of violating the Public Order Act, which makes acts of racist abuse illegal.
Ignorant people, offensive comments. There’s no shortage of them, even in an era where Black players outnumber Whites in several major sports and teams are becoming increasingly homogenized in most others.
The great thing about sports is that it unleashes passions in people that they ordinarily wouldn’t show in other ways. The not-so-great thing about sports is that sometimes fans—and players themselves—channel those passions in destructive ways.
How else would you explain a group of fans in Germany directing Hitler salutes during practice last month at an Israeli player on the Kaiserslautern team? Did they think Itay Shechter would get a chuckle out of the reference to the reviled German leader responsible for the deaths of millions of Jews in World War II?
Steve Williams certainly thought he was funny when he railed on about his former boss at a caddies award dinner. The former bagman for Tiger Woods said “My aim was to shove it up that Black a—–” when he did a TV interview celebrating a win by his new employer, Adam Scott. Amid accusations of racisms, Williams apologized, and Woods said he did not believe his old caddie was a racist.
There’s nothing funny about racism. It goes against the core of everything sports is supposed to mean, but it goes on anyway.
It cost John Terry his job as England’s soccer captain, and it could cost him some money when the Chelsea defender faces trial in July on charges of racially abusing Queens Park’s Anton Ferdinand during a premier league game. The charges were part of a string of incidents that included Liverpool striker Luis Suarez being banned for eight matches for racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra.
That incident got two heads of state involved. Uruguay President Jose Mujica defended Suarez even after he refused to shake hands with Evra in their first meeting since the incident, and British Prime Minister David Cameron ordered the English Football Association to come up with a full report on how racism and other forms of discrimination can be eliminated.
That’s an improvement over soccer czar Sepp Blatter’s contention a few months ago that there was no racism in soccer. The FIFA chief suggested that any problems could be solved by a handshake at the end of the game.
Blatter later apologized, just like Southern Mississippi did on behalf of the band. Like him, the band members have some learning to do.
Turns out Rodriguez is from Puerto Rico and a U.S. citizen, just like them.
Proof again that ignorance and racism is a losing combination.
(Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg.)