Imagine for a moment banana peels raining down on the head of Miami Heat basketball star LeBron James when he takes the court. Picture Vikings running back Adrian Peterson having to hear fans sing songs calling for his death because of the color of his skin. It’s difficult to visualize in US sports* but such scenes have become a normal feature of European soccer. Yet perhaps, in one moment of fury, the page may finally be turning on this ugly state of affairs. In a bracing display of courage, star midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng, of the legendary Italian club, A.C. Milan, displayed all the frustration that’s been building among professional soccer players of color in Europe over the last two decades as they’ve endured all manner of toxic, racist garbage when they take the pitch.
In the middle of a “friendly match” against the club Pro Patria, a mini-mob in the bleachers repeatedly tossed bigoted bombs at the non-white players on AC Milan’s roster, and Boateng decided he’d had enough. He picked up the ball right in the middle of play and punted it directly into their section of the stands. Boateng then began to walk off the field in protest. Here is where, in a matter of seconds, the turn of events shifted from shock to wonder. As Boateng stormed to the nearest exit, the Pro Patria fans, instead of jeering, cheered him for his actions. Then the referees called off the rest of the game and his opponents on Pro Patria walked off with Boateng, shoulder to shoulder, in solidarity. The announcers could only utter a word in Italian easy to translate: “Incredible.”
There were those who commented immediately on Twitter that the moves by Boateng, the referees, and the Pro Patria players were easy because this wasn’t an official league game. But Massimiliano Allegri, the coach of AC Milan, said afterward that his team would walk out again if one of their players were racially abused, regardless of either the competition or the situation. The powerful Allegri also put out a call for other teams to stage walkouts if their players were similarly abused. Particularly significant about this is that the European soccer-governing body, UEFA, has explicitly banned players and coaches taking the fight against racism into their own hands. As UEFA chief Michel Platini has said, players will be fined or suspended for expressing anti-racist resistance on the field. Instead. they should just meekly tell the referee and go about the game. Boateng, Allegri and others are now saying that this isn’t close to good enough.