Sports are supposed to be the great equalizer, capable of bringing people together from cultures and backgrounds of all kinds. But pro athletes often find out the hard way not everyone wants to be inclusive, and Ghanaian soccer player Sulley Muntari is the latest victim of targeted abuse from sports fans.
Muntari, a veteran midfielder for Pescara in Italy's top league, Serie A, grew tired of abuse directed his way during his club's match against Cagliari on Sunday. As you can see in the video up top, he begins violently tapping his forearm, saying "This is my color!" to multiple officials during the game. The referees made matters worse; when Muntari took his complaints about the crowd directly to the officials, the lead official eventually booked the 32-year-old for dissent.
Prior to going to the refs, Muntari claims he tried to engage fans directly, but was eventually told to cut it out by the referee. That's what really set him off:
They were chanting against me from the start. In the first half, I saw that there were some children in the group and so I turned to their parents and gave them my shirt, to set an example. The issue continued with another group of fans. I was reasoning with them, but the referee told me I had to let it go. That's when I got angry. Because instead of stopping the game, he decided to punish me.
The fans were wrong, but the referee had to act differently, not accuse me of causing trouble. If the officials actually stopped games, I am convinced these things wouldn't happen anymore.
Pescara's manager, Zdenek Zeman, appeared to take Muntari's side after the game, despite his player being booked and walking off the field in protest.
"We talk so much about racism, but then we just move on," said Zeman. "This happened to Muntari who has played in Italy for several years—we want to change the mentality. He left the field because of the chants, but we should not have to take justice into our own hands."
While Muntari was the man being targeted this time, racism is still far too common in sports or otherwise. Italian striker Mario Balotelli has consistently been subjected to racial abuse during his career, playing for several clubs across Europe's top leagues. And it's not just a soccer problem either—Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds has dealt with racist chants and bananas thrown at him during hockey games in North America and overseas.
Spotlighting obvious cases of racism like fans chanting at Muntari is easy, but the undercurrents are what sports fans have to be better at picking out. When subtle forms of prejudice are able to infiltrate stadiums and locker rooms, bigots feel a lot more comfortable removing the veil and spewing outright hate.
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