Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Bleachers' Brew #319 When race is a four-letter word

This appears in the Monday, July 16, 2012 edition of the Business Mirror.

When race is a four-letter word
by rick olivares

When you say things in anger, do you always mean it? Or do you just use anything you can think of to lash out? For sure, like jokes, there is a grain of truth somewhere in those words. At least of how you feel and think.

There are two sides of the coin to issue of racial abuse levied against former England captain John Terry. In a match between English football clubs Chelsea and Queens Park Rangers, the Blues’ Terry and the Rangers’ Anton Ferdinand went at each other for stretches of the game with verbal jousts. Then it got out of hand following a disputed penalty call.

Terry claims that Ferdinand mentioned the extramarital affair he had with former teammate Wayne Bridge’s girlfriend so he countered with “(expletive) black (expletive).”

Since then it has been a he said-he said affair. The video remains damning proof. But was it taken out of context?

And that recalls to mind not just the Luis Suarez-Patrice Evra issue of last season but also the Marco Materazzi-Zinedine Zidane incident that overshadowed the 2006 World Cup Final.

Regarding the Suarez-Evra incident, the former was said to have used the word “negro” against Evra. Suarez claimed he didn’t use such because for one, he is South American where people are of mixed races and furthermore, he has black teammates so why will he say such. Suarez was found guilty by England’s Football Association (on what evidence I have no idea) and he was subsequently suspended for several fixtures.

In the return match between Suarez’ Liverpool and Evra’s Manchester United that saw the Red Devils win 2-1, matters got worse when the Uruguayan did not shake the hand of the Frenchman’s during the traditional handshake before a match. The pre and post-match histrionics by both players (Evra celebrated in Suarez’ face) brought the rivalry between the two clubs to a simmering boil. It is an embarrassing episode from either side of the spectrum and hopefully, both clubs will move on from those two incidents.

As for the infamous Zidane sending off (in his final competitive game no less), the Frenchman explained in his post-match actions that Materazzi allegedly said something racial in nature about his family. Zidane is French but he is of Algerian ancestry. The red card obviously affected France’s finish as Zidane clearly had an impact on the game but also Les Bleus’ entire campaign. With him gone, so did the French’s chances.

I do not claim to be an expert on issues such as this but what I do know is that during heated sports matches with all the trash talking and dirty play sometimes words are said only in the heat of the moment. Have I done that? Yes, I have but never racial slurs. Nevertheless, a couple of times they even led to an actual fight.

There are things that rile me up fast and race is one of them. You see, I also know the feeling of being racially abused.

On a business trip to China, some Hong Kong Chinese officemates asked me to carry their bags (in a veiled reference to domestic helpers). I hotly retorted something that they didn’t like either and we had to be restrained from going after one another.

When I was living and working in New York, a co-worker who was from Mexico said something about Chinese and Filipinos that didn’t make me happy at all. Over a period of several days, he used those words until one day I snapped and pushed him against the wall and challenged him to a fight. I also used some derogatory words. When the general manager saw the commotion, he angrily asked about the nature of the incident. When I told him what transpired he (he was Bangladeshi-American) pointed a finger in my co-worker’s face and said, “This is New York and you cannot use that kind of language here. If this were in the streets you’ll get beat up for your trouble.”

One time, I was on my way down to the restroom when another officemate of mine stopped me. He let in another officemate of mine in first while saying, “White women first. (Expletive) Asians last.”

Just as I was about to tear into him, another co-worker who is from Puerto Rico got in his face and he backed off.

After the post-9-11 recession, while in a bit of desperate straits, I thought about enlisting in the US military. I made my way down to the Army recruitment office in Journal Square, Jersey City. There were over 25 people applying for the military. And the majority were Korean, Mexican, Latin American, and Filipino. The officer on duty said that the only race as far as Uncle Sam is concerned is that everyone was “American” and “the US Army”. And this is something I will never forget. He said, “Anyone who thinks otherwise will find themselves on the business end of the most modern assault rifles, cruise missiles, and tanks and powerful military on God’s green earth.”

But there are also incidents where there is no trash talking involved. Remember when former Spain coach Luis Aragones said disparaging and racists words about Thierry Henry to Jose Antonio Reyes while on national duty. Aragones’ words were picked up by a television crew and beamed worldwide. Aragones explained that he was trying to motivate Reyes and that he wouldn’t use those words in a derogatory manner because he had friends of different races. Really?

Some things can be resolved without the incidents escalating. Because the way the world works today, incidents like this can be magnified. It’s sometimes hard to imagine how people can be so backward about race and other similar issues given all the changes and advances in the world today. But maybe incidents like this are meant to happen so we may never take our liberties and rights for granted.

The goal of a sporting match is to win. Sometimes it comes but at a cost to our soul.

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