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Soccer and Nationalism in the United States: U.S. Soccer’s National Anthem Policy

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U.S. Soccer, the governing body of soccer (football) in the United States, finally contributed a sense of reason to the chaos—and the resultant divisions—that have been rampant in American society recently. On 4 March 2017 it was reported that U.S. Soccer announced that “All persons representing a federation national team shall stand respectfully during the playing of national anthems at any event in which the federation is represented”. Some media outlets, such as Rolling Stone, connected this decision to U.S. women’s national team star Megan Rapinoe’s decision to kneel before an international football game in solidarity with American footballer Colin Kaepernick’s protest against racial inequality in the United States (a subject I have written on before).

 

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Megan Rapinoe’s Decision to Kneel For the National Anthem Prompts a Policy Change. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.rollingstone.com/sports/us-soccer-makes-players-stand-for-national-anthem-w470611

 

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U.S. Soccer’s New Bylaws. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/stuholden/status/838109929802063872

 

Personally, I believe that the U.S. Soccer decision is timely in that it does two important things: 1) It restores a semblance of reason to a confused populace by re-enforcing the positive aspects of nationalism and 2) it sends a message to the entitled masses that it is a privilege and honor to represent one’s country in international competition. In regards to the first accomplishment, it is useful to quote from Anthony Smith’s Nationalism and Modernism (1998):

It is because we know that our interests, indeed our very identities and survival, are bound up with the nation, that we feel such devotion to the nation and are prepared to make such sacrifices for it when it is in danger […] The concept of the nation, then, is not only an abstraction and invention, as is so often claimed. It is also felt, and felt passionately, as something very real, a concrete community, in which we may find some assurance of our own identity and even, through our descendants, of our immortality.

(Smith, 1998: 140).

Smith’s quote is useful in this context insofar as it recognizes the importance of “the nation” in modern society beyond the post-modern interpretation of the nation as either “abstraction” or “invention”; for some it is indeed very real and should—therefore—afford a modicum of respect. In the era of late-stage (or “extreme”) capitalism, the nation is one of the few entities that can bring together the disparate members of modern society beneath one unified conception and U.S. Soccer’s move emphasizes the importance of national identity along these lines. Regardless of our nationality, we do not need to think of our nation as superior to other nations; rather we must only acknowledge that the nation—by providing a semblance of shared culture and experience—has a use in the modern age. Until we find a better way to organize our lives and provide vital services like education and law enforcement, there is no alternative to the nation-state. Therefore, it would be more logical to perfect the workings of the nation-state, rather than reject it wholesale.

As far as the second result of U.S. Soccer’s announcement, it is clear that this move sends a message to current and perspective players alike that playing for one’s nation is a privilege; the least one can do is stand up and honor this privilege. Standing might be seen as an inconvenience to some, but the very fact that they are playing for their country renders all comparisons to the protest of Mr. Kaepernick (who plays for a private entity, the San Francisco 49ers) baseless. Since the nation is (not yet anyway) a private company, there can be little comparison.

Some soccer celebrities in the United States came out in support of U.S. Soccer’s decision. The head coach of the US Men’s National Team Bruce Arena said  “I’m very supportive of that policy. I think players should stand for the national anthem. I think representing your country is one of the greatest honors a player or coach can have. That would be my expectations of the players as well”. Goalkeeper Tim Howard, famous for his heroics in the 2014 World Cup that earned the moniker “Department of Defense”, also came out in favor of the policy saying “I’m a firm believer that you should stand and respect the anthem and the flag, but that’s Tim Howard speaking. I don’t speak for anybody else. That’s what I believe.” Howard added “U.S. Soccer is an organization who are allowed to make rules. Listen, I think if you’re going to wear the shirt, if it’s OK to play for the U.S. then surely it’s OK to stand for its anthem as well. Yeah, I’m OK with it”. The fact that the Denver Post felt the need to underline Mr. Howard’s stance may have been because he is African-American; it is an unfortunate recognition of a flaw in modern society (and also Sociology) which seems to posit that all members of particular demographic groups should think the same thing. For me, such thought processes are inherently racist but that is just one reason (among many) that I am merely a marginal sociologist.

 

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The Department of Defense. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/302867143665717538/

 

The strongest supporter of U.S. Soccer’s policy was former star (and current pundit) Alexi Lalas who went so far as to suggest that players should also be made to sing the national anthem:

U.S. Soccer has the right to do this. The question is, is it the right thing to do, and I say 100 percent. It is a privilege, it is an honor, it is a choice to represent your country, and it comes with responsibilities and expectations. And I know nowadays sometimes the national anthem is viewed as background noise or as a reminder to some about the problems, the real problems, that we have as a country. But I look at is as a unique moment, when we come together, we honor and we celebrate being citizens of the greatest country in the world, and I think it is a tradition that should be preserved.

I have been in stadiums where I stood for the anthem and everybody has booed, where flags have been burned, where I have been called every name in the book. I have never served in the military, I have represented my country on the field, and I know that pales in comparison to the men and women in our armed forces that serve our country and some that paid that ultimate price.

So damn right I am going to stand, I’m going to put my hand over my heart and I’m going to sing. And I believe that all U.S. national team players should be required to do that. Just because we live in the land of the free doesn’t mean that we are free to do anything that we want. [Author’s Note: Emphasis added].

 

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Mr. Lalas’ Iconoclastic Look. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/302867143665717538/

 

While Mr. Lalas’ views may be seen as “extreme”, he raises an important point in his last sentence when he discusses the “freedom” of the purported “land of the free”. As nationalism scholar Anthony Smith notes, nations that consist of immigrant populations (like Canada, Australia, and the United States) encourage “a ‘plural’ conception of the nation, which accepts, and even celebrates, ethnic and cultural diversity within an overarching political, legal, and linguistic national identity” (Smith, 1998: 194; emphasis added). While celebrating ethnic and cultural diversity is certainly important—and indeed laudable—such a policy can only be done within overarching frameworks related to national identity. Without the glue of some sort of national identity—one that is civic and inclusive in nature—the raison d’etre of nations based on immigrant populations (like the United States) is threatened. It is important to recognize the difference (one that many Sociologists I have spoken to fail to make) between respecting cultural and ethnic plurality and rejecting an overarching national identity; these two need not be tied together. Collective nationalism and individual cultural identity need not be mutually exclusive, especially in a country like the United States where a civic model of nationalism is stressed.

Of course, these nuances were not recognized by many pundits who responded to U.S. Soccer’s new bylaws. George Quraishi of The Lowell Sun made the claim that U.S. Soccer was—somehow—siding against the Black Lives Matter movement: “What interests me about the unanimous decision by U.S. Soccer’s board of directors is that it verbalized a message that the soccer establishment has been sending to black Americans for decades: This sport is not for you”. The most shocking thing about Mr. Quraishi’s (I am sure well-meaning) comments here is that they only serve to exacerbate the divide between Black and White Americans. Could it be that, in requiring players to stand for the national anthem, U.S. Soccer was actually trying to bridge the gap between Americans? And could it be that articles like Mr. Quraishi’s are actually perpetuating divides between Americans, by reading into things that are not there (after all, the Black Lives Matter movement was not mentioned in U.S. Soccer’s announcement)? This is understandably a contested subject, but it is the responsibility of all Americans to face these kinds of hard questions if we are to build a functioning society going forward; a society built not on divisions and recriminations but unity and mutual empathy.

Unfortunately, other mainstream sports media outlets in the United States followed Mr. Quraishi’s line. Some pundits from Sports Illustrated claimed that the new policy was “almost un-American” and “pretty tone-deaf”, while ESPN (predictably) slammed the policy calling it both “anti-American” and “anti-soccer”. Chris Jones’ article is exemplary of the faults that so much of U.S. news media has succumbed to recently: it often serves to divide more than it unites. Take this passage as an example:

Maybe the powers that be thought that by making this little show, they could appeal to a previously untapped audience of self-appointed super patriots.

That same audience would have a new favorite player in USMNT defender Geoff Cameron, a vocal supporter of Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban. U.S. Soccer didn’t care to censure him for making that particular political statement, even though it put him at odds with several members of the team, including captain Michael Bradley.

(And no, Cameron shouldn’t have been punished. Freedom of expression does not mean “only expression I like.”)

Despite Mr. Jones’ disclaimer in the last line, he is still effectively calling out a player (Geoff Cameron) in public for expressing an opinion that disagrees with his own. This is absurd, and can be described as poor journalism at best. As public intellectuals (or perhaps, “intellectuals”) I hold journalists to higher standards than those that Mr. Jones met in his piece.

In order to tie this sports-based piece to politics, it is useful to quote a piece from a Breitbart article written by Dylan Gwinn, which quotes Mr. Jones’ piece in the first paragraph:

“More importantly, nobody can make a really solid, rational argument for why players must stand respectfully or otherwise, at least one that isn’t instantly invalidated by a photograph of Olympic medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos and their raised fists in 1968.”

 While no one would say our current day and age is without difficulty, it’s definitely not 1968 either. So that could be an argument couldn’t it? No early, post-segregation environment, no Vietnam War. Is poverty still an issue for millions of black people in America? Sure, but maybe it would be more instructive to go ask former President Obama why he focused on redistribution during his eight years in office?

 According to the Washington Times, under Obama the black labor force participation rate fell from 63.2% in 2009 to 61.2% in July of last year, in addition to black home ownership falling from 46.1% in 2009 to just 41.7% in July of last year.

Maybe addressing that, would be more productive than focusing on how awesome it is to kneel at a soccer game?

While I do not make claims for the truthfulness of The Washington Times or Breitbart, I do believe that it is important to actually address real issues, one of which is the poverty of Black Americans. By missing this point—and focusing so much on the criticism of smaller issues that could be beneficial in terms of creating a semblance of unity (like U.S. Soccer’s new policy)—journalists like Chris Jones only serve to pat themselves on the back in the short term while furthering division in the long term.

Judging by Tommie Smith’s words, I believe that both Mr. Smith and John Carlos had very different motivations for their protest in 1968. A piece from Time Magazine quotes Tommie Smith from an HBO documentary as saying: “We were just human beings who saw a need to bring attention to the inequality in our country. I don’t like the idea of people looking at it as negative. There was nothing but a raised fist in the air and a bowed head, acknowledging the American flag—not symbolizing a hatred for it”. [Author’s Note: Emphasis added]. Mr. Smith’s comments here are very important; they represent a desire for America to live up to its own ideals: liberty and justice for all. As African Americans during the Civil Rights Era Mr. Smith and Mr. Carlos had every right to protest as they did; they were striving for a more equal country with the acknowledgement that they were a part of that country. What we see more and more in the current United States is, however, a blatant disregard—even hatred for—the United States from its own citizenry. The search for equality and justice need not attack the country, since what we all strive for is a more inclusive and accepting country. I have, time and again, heard Sociologists lament the power of the state. While I too am wary of the over-regulatory power of the state (Seatbelt laws are but one example), I also recognize the need for some sort of organizing principle. Until a better form of organization supersedes the nation-state, I must side with Anthony D. Smith:

As for the predictions of a global culture, they fail to take into account the rootedness of cultures in time and place, and the ways in which identity depends on memory. A truly non-imperial ‘global culture’, timeless, placeless, technical and affectively neutral, must be memory-less and hence identity-less, or fall into a postmodern pastiche of existing national cultures and so disintegrate into its component parts. To date, we cannot discern a serious rival to the nation for the affections and loyalities of most human beings.

(Smith, 1998: 195; Emphasis added).

 

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Tommie Smith and John Carlos Show That Nationalism and Individualism Need Not Be Mutually Exclusive. Image Courtesy Of: http://time.com/3880999/black-power-salute-tommie-smith-and-john-carlos-at-the-1968-olympics/
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Sports Figures Support Turkey’s War on Foreign Currency

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Since the Gezi protests of May 2013 the Turkish economy has become more and more vulnerable; the failed coup of 15 July 2016 and several violent incidents—perpetrated by both ISIS/ISIL/DAESH and Kurdish separatists—have only precipitated a decline that was a long-time coming. Mustafa Sonmez’s column at Al-Monitor gives a useful outline of how the situation got so dire. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) built their reputation on a strong economy and received an average inflow of 38 Billion USD over the past fourteen years, but most of this money was spent domestically—especially in large scale construction projects and consumer loans (after all, people need money to afford the luxury high-rises that have popped up around Istanbul in the last decade). This means that there were no foreign exchange gains; Turkey still does not export anything (even footballers) to a significant degree. The end result of this? As Mr. Sonmez notes “The dollar’s appreciation against the lira since 2013 will be 60% by the end of 2016 if its rise this year is contained at the current 12%.”

 

The Sharp Downfall Of the Turkish Lira (All Figures Courtesy Of : http://www.xe.com/currencycharts/?from=TRY&to=USD&view=12h)
1 Year:

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2 Year:

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Clearly, this is bad news for the Turkish economy and those in the country who earn their money in honest ways. In a bid to combat the Lira’s downward spiral, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the country on 5 December 2016 “those who keep foreign currency under their mattress should come and turn them into liras or gold”. Subsequently, Turkey’s main stock exchange Borsa Istanbul, changed all their assets into dollars while Mr. Erdogan’s spokesman said on 8 December 2016 that the President had changed all his foreign currency into Liras. As is to be expected, opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu was left wondering whether the shoeboxes of foreign bills belonging to Mr. Erdogan’s associates that were uncovered during a corruption inquiry in 2013 were exchanged as well.

This “war on the Dollar” has also taken some interesting turns. Hurriyet Daily News reports that some restaurants would give free food and drink to those who converted Dollars or Euro into Liras, while one bus company offered free bus tickets and even one marble cutter offered free tombstones to those who show proof of converting 2,000 Dollars. It is ironic that tombstones should be offered, since the decision to convert foreign currency to Liras—in this climate—could be construed by some as economic suicide for low-income individuals and families.

Interestingly, many famous people have also joined this crusade, including footballer Aydin Yilmaz. Former Sivasspor footballer Jacques Faty is seen in a picture proving that he converted foreign currency into Liras , although the fact that he now plays in Australia may mean that his contribution to the “crusade” is questionable. On 8 December, Galatasaray captain Selcuk Inan announced that he would accept a new contract in Turkish Liras and we will wait and see how many other footballers choose to follow suit, since—in the globalized world—football is intimately tied to the global economy.

 

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Celebrities Follow Their Leader. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sabah.com.tr/magazin/2016/12/09/vatansever-unlu-isimler-dolar-bozdurmaya-kostu

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.haberler.com/eski-sivassporlu-jacques-faty-dolarlarini-9038038-haberi/

 

The most high profile participant in this frenzy is former Turkish great (and AKP Deputy) Tanju Colak who took an astounding 80,000 USD to an Istanbul change office, saying “we came here to make fun of the Dollar, to burn the Dollar”. Indeed, some of those waiting to exchange their money were allegedly seen burning one Dollar notes (clearly, none were bold enough to burn one hundred dollar bills!).

 

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Mr. Colak (L) Trades In His Greenbacks While The Change Office Employee Looks On With Joy (R). Image Courtesy Of: http://www.yenisafak.com/spor/selcuk-inan-tl-teklifini-kabul-etti-2577034

 

As if the spectacle of a former professional footballer burning money was not ridiculous enough, the coach of Osmanlispor (a team close to Ankara’s AKP mayor Melih Gokcek) Mustafa Resit Akcay asked the state to come and take 20,000 USD from him. Normally, citizens are reluctant to allow the government to take money from them; I am reminded of a graffito I once saw that asks “why do we need police to protect us from thieves when the government already steals from us?” In Turkey—as is so often the case—the logic is turned upside down. Mr. Akcay said (author’s translation):

 

Siyasetçilerimizden, bütün siyasetçilerden, devleti yönetenlerden, müsteşarlardan hepsinden özür dileyerek, haddimi aşmadan bu ülkenin bu ekonomik savaşında devletim gelip benden 20 bin dolar alsın. Ve bu aldığı parayı bana 10 sene sonra mı öder, 20 sene sonra çocuklarıma mı öder, nereye öderse ödesin. Vergi dairesinden bir tane adamı yollasın bana, ben de ödeyeyim, paramı vereyim, helali hoş olsun. Ama bunu yaparken devletime bir nezaketsizlik yapmak istemiyorum. Özür diliyorum eğer bir nezaketsizlik varsa.

 With all due apologies to our politicians, all politicians, those who run the state, and the councilors, I ask—without overstepping my bounds—for the state to come and take twenty-thousand dollars from me in the midst of this country’s economic fight.  Maybe they we will pay this money back to me in 10 years, or back to my children in 20 years; however they pay it they can. They should send one person from the tax collector’s office, let me pay, let me give my money, it’s all ok. But as I do this I don’t want to be rude to my state. I apologize if I have been ungracious.   

It is an interesting stance to take, and I cannot fault Mr. Akcay for his nationalism, but it is also an example of the troubling results of globalization and global financial interdependence. The same push back that brought the UK Brexit and the US Donald Trump is now leading to economic nationalism in Turkey.

With currency experts calling this a “currency crisis”, CNBC reported that many American companies are facing trouble in Turkey. With the country downgraded to below investment grade—the latest bombing on 10 December confirming fears—foreign capital has been given another reason to avoid Turkey. As of now, some companies—like GE and Pepsi—are increasing their presence in Turkey. But how long will this last?

The Voice of America expressed fears that this economic nationalism could go to dangerous levels. Atilla Yesilada, a consultant at Global Source Partners, said:

 

While the patriotic Turks may heed him and will probably exchange their currency holdings, you got to remember that 48 percent of these people don’t vote for him, and they are scared, and many of whom may choose to take their money abroad. Assuming only 10 percent of domestic savers choose to send their money abroad, that would be $9 billion and that would be huge […] That’s where danger lies; action brings reaction. If the government in consultation with banks and the central bank,[sic] realizes those skeptical of the government are taking their money outside the country on a large scale, then you will have capital controls, like [C]hina. You will have limits on what money you can take out and that will really scare foreign institutional investors, who have 80 billion dollars invested in Turkish financial markets, so you might see a chain reaction of them scrambling for the door.

 

Indeed, capital controls would be disastrous for the Turkish economy, and could even affect the football world. Turkish teams are already suffering on the international stage, if their purchasing power is curtailed it could get even worse. Given that international capital has not pulled out completely, the situation is still fluid and I myself have heard rumors of smaller companies that have decided to pull out of Turkey. In the travel sector, for instance, the Los Angeles Times reported that Albania—the same Albania that used to be off-limits to foreigners during the Cold War under the Enver Hoxha regime—has now replaced Turkey on the cruise circuit.

While I believe that the trend towards reversing some of globalization’s more devastating side effects will continue throughout the world in the post-Brexit and post-Trump world, it will be important to watch for the results of this type of economic nationalism. These are worrying times, perhaps not for the ruling elite (and famous celebrities like footballers) who likely have stockpiles of cash and are using this as a cheap publicity stunt, but certainly for the normal citizen who struggles to make ends meet as it is. Encouraging the everyday person to trade in their foreign currency for one that has lost 11 percent of its value in the last month alone will not help, rather it will exacerbate their difficulties.

 

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Gold Values Have Plummeted Over The Last Month. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bigpara.com/altin/cumhuriyet-altini-fiyati/1ay

 

By encouraging people to buy gold, for instance, the value of government issued coins has actually gone down; on 1 December 2016 the value was 887.90 Turkish Liras but following Mr. Erdogan’s announcement on 5 December 2016 the value has fallen to 855.29 on 15 December 2016. For a working class Turk in a country with a 1,300 Lira minimum wage, that loss of over thirty Liras in fourteen days means a lot. This is why it is unfortunate that footballers—extremely wealthy celebrities that are looked up to by people from all walks of society—should be following the government in encouraging those with much less wealth to do things that may not be in their immediate best interests, economically at least.

Why the Blast at Istanbul’s Vodafone Arena May Prove to be A Pivotal Moment For Turkey

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I arrived in Istanbul today for what I thought would be a relaxing vacation with my girlfriend. I jokingly told my friends something could happen, since tragic “events” have a way of ocurring when I leave or arrive in Turkey. Unfortunately tonight, I was proved right. And it pains me that my simple joke was prescient. I don’t write this post from Istanbul just because the attack happened outside of a stadium and that it relates to sport, I write it because it may truly be a pivotal moment in Turkish history.

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Image Courtesy Of: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/dec/10/bomb-outside-istanbul-football-stadium-causes-multiple-casualties

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Images Courtesy Of: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/2372661/fifteen-dead-istanbul-football-stadium-bombs/

On the night of 10 December 2016, after Beşiktaş’s Superleague victory over rivals Bursaspor, a vicious attack took place outside of Beşiktaş’s Vodafone arena. At the outset the BBC reported 15 dead and 69 wounded from an attack that consisted of a car bomb and suicide bomber. As of 3:00am CNN Turk (a branch of Turkish State Media), was only reporting 20 wounded and no dead. At 4:27am, the same CNN Turk reported 29 dead and 166 wounded. So…why the silence until after four in the morning, when most (sensible) people are asleep? Why the changing casualty figures, when foreign media was reporting higher numbers? I believe this reluctance to tell the truth stems from the fact that the government knows that they are facing a huge—and possibly pivotal—challenge.

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At 3:29am there was no mention of numbers. Image Courtesy of the Author.

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At 4:27am, when most (sensible) people are asleep, numbers are announced. Image Courtesy of the Author.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan released a statement that read: “A terrorist attack has been carried out against our security forces and our citizens. It has been understood that the explosions after the Besiktas-Bursaspor football game aimed to maximise casualties. As a result of these attacks unfortunately we have martyrs and wounded.”

Sadly—like so much in Turkish state media—this statement doesn’t tell the whole truth. The fact that Mr. Erdogan claimed that the attack “aimed to maximise casualties” is, in fact, false, and therein lies the danger. If the perpetrators—whoever they may be—wanted to maximise casualties the attack would have taken place during the game, when the 43,500 capacity stadium was full. The fact that the attack took place two hours after the match and didn’t target civilians, but appeared to target police, shows that there was some sort of twisted restraint in this attack.

Here, it seems that the target of the stadium was chosen in order to send a message, a twisted and violent message that says “We can do worse damage if we wanted to. Right now we are attacking the state, not citizens. But if we want to target citizens, we can do that too”. Indeed, if the attack had taken place during the match, it would have been even worse (given that already 29 have been confirmed dead, the statement “even worse” is contextual). And that is the scariest thing about this attack. It is tragic that there were so many casualites in (yet another) senseless act of violence, but it is chilling that this may only be a prelude to much worse in Turkey. And if that is indeed the case, we as human beings, need to be aware.

A Marginal Sociologist’s Take On America IV: Politics As Sport? Stark Divisions Hinder the Ability to Address Real Societal Problems

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Just a Little Humor: Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2016/2/27/1492361/-A-Thought-About-Politics-as-Sport

As the rumblings regarding Donald Trump’s election victory continue, I am still shocked to see how base the level of discourse is; it is much more reminiscent of an argument about sports than one about politics. It is one driven by emotion and not fact, knee jerk reactions rather than contemplation or serious thought. Aides for Mr. Trump and erstwhile rival Hillary Clinton engaged in an unprecedented shouting match at Harvard University and when “chosen” people (such as campaign aides) are unable to engage in civilized debate it is no wonder that debate amongst us connection-less “mere mortals” (the masses) is of equally low quality.

For me, the fact that “race” was the main point of contention between the aides was the most interesting part of the exchange:

Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri condemned [Trump campaign chief executive Stephen] Bannon, who previously ran Breitbart, a news site popular with the alt-right, a small movement known for espousing racist views.

‘If providing a platform for white supremacists makes me a brilliant tactician, I am proud to have lost,’ she said. ‘I would rather lose than win the way you guys did.’

Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager, fumed: “Do you think I ran a campaign where white supremacists had a platform?”

‘You did, Kellyanne. You did’ interjected Palmieri, who choked up at various points of the session.

‘Do you think you could have just had a decent message for white, working-class voters?’ Conway asked. ‘How about, it’s Hillary Clinton, she doesn’t connect with people? How about, they have nothing in common with her? How about, she doesn’t have an economic message?’

 

We must try to look past the language of state media (the Washington Post). Ms. Palmieri is depicted as having “choked up”. Of course, in a country where cry-ins were organized post-election, this kind of emotional response is accepted—dare I say expected—from Ms. Clinton’s supporters (and Mr. Trump’s detractors). On the other hand, looking at this from a feminist perspective, I would say that this is a glaring example of portraying women, like Ms. Palmieri, as weak and emotional (typical stereotypes of women in American society). State media’s decision to add the “choking up” detail, which is utterly meaningless in the context of the story, is troublesome since it is offensive to women.

Then again, some segments of America might be thinking “state media would never insult feminists or women,” right? Because state media’s opponent, Mr. Trump, is the misogynist and sexist, right? Perhaps…but this misses an important point. Just because someone says they aren’t racist or sexist or anything else, it doesn’t mean that they are—actually—what they claim to be.

In a conversation with fellow sociology graduate students earlier this week I pointed out how minority groups are continually disadvantaged by ostensibly “progressive” forces. I argued that it is a form of social control, designed to divide people so as to prevent opposition to the dominant narrative. After all, the ghettoization of African-Americans in American cities is most glaring in the major urban centers of “progressive” and liberal states, just look at Chicago, Boston, or New York. Erica Lehrer’s study Jewish Poland Revisited explains how many American Jews are taught that all Polish people are anti-Semitic, creating an unhealthy “Us versus Them” narrative. This is sustained because many American Jews never have meaningful interactions with Poles during their visits. It is the same in the United States; northern “progressives” have never actually interacted with African-Americans because they have been ghettoized (and demonized). In my own education, a private high school in New England, I was basically taught that all Southerners are racist bigots. In reality, having lived in the deep south, I have learned that there is far more interaction between Whites and African-Americans—most of which is overwhelmingly positive—in the south then there even could be in the liberal and progressive north.

In our discussion, a student told me that sociologists do research to benefit society and create equality. I asked the student what “benefiting society” even means? From my perspective, I have seen sociology often further divide people—such as the working class—by emphasizing arbitrary dividing lines. A chapter in a book I’m currently reading for my research about sports and politics says “whereas class has virtually disappeared from much of the sociological writing on sport, there is no shortage of references to gender, sexuality, ‘race’, ethnicity, national identity, disability, and so on” (Alan Bairner in Marxism, Cultural Studies and Sports, Ben Carrington and Ian Mcdonald, eds.: 207). I don’t think that the sociology of sport is alone among fields of sociological inquiry in experiencing a phenomenon where class is continually ignored in favor of smaller, compartmentalized, differences. I also have no doubt that many of these divisions cross-cut class, and that emphasis on these differences only serves to further fragment society.

We live in a society where many academics have been co-opted by the culture industry; they agree with the dominant media narrative. Of course, this is dangerous for democratic society. The “educated” must think independently and speak up when there is exploitation and not just pay it lip service. A friend in my department told me that some research results that portray minority groups in negative lights are being suppressed in academia, since it could have “detrimental consequences”. Does this mean that academics are purposefully censoring themselves in the name of “racial equality”? I would say it does, and that is very problematic. To me, that is inherently racist, belying the “progressive” ideals of so many U.S. academics.

Turkey Silently Celebrates a Bittersweet Republic Day While Football Clubs Weigh In

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Image Courtesy Of: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flag-map_of_Turkey.svg

29 October is the day Turkey celebrates the founding of the republic in 1923; three months after July’s attempted coup to topple the government, there were no nationwide celebrations. The propaganda like element of Daily Sabah’s English story is telling:

During Erdoğan’s tenure as president and previously as prime minister, Republic Day celebrations became more centered on the public’s participation rather than a pompous display of military might and an occasion almost exclusive to the secular elite as it was in the past.

The news outlet even subconsciously lets readers know that the AKP is a development of Turkey’s democratic heritage (and in their opinion, as they make clear, distinct from Ataturk’s legacy as well):

Atatürk was elected the first president of the Republic by a unanimous vote by the newly established Parliament after the Republic’s declaration. However, a multi-party democracy would take another 27 years to take hold in the new republic.

In recent years under the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), many national holiday celebrations and traditions have been scaled back. It is part and parcel of recent economic developments; as has happened in other countries that have embraced neo-liberal economic policies under the aegis of globalization nationalist displays and traditions have been replaced by homogenizing forces that aim to make all citizens devoid of any feelings tied to a national past. In a Brave New World-esque sense, the citizenry are to become individuals focused on nothing more than preforming their roles as consumers and producers, beholden to the capitalist dreams of their leaders.

In such an environment where having an affinity for the nation is offensive, as one sarcastic commentator notes, people do not even have any political thoughts anymore; they care much more about their football teams then they do about even their politics. Much of Mr. Kalemkar’s sarcastic piece points out how, gradually, all meaning has been taken out of politics. A small excerpt appears below:

29 Ekim tarihine özel bir anlam yüklemek ekim ayının diğer günlerini incitir. Biri zamanın birinde Cumhuriyeti ilan etmiş diye ekim aynın diğer günlerini, bırakın ekim ayını, diğer 11 ayı küstürmeye ne gerek var?

 Having special meaning for 29 October is hurtful to the other days of October. Just because on one day a republic was formed then why should we offend October’s other days, or even the other 11 months?

The piece goes on to show some of the strange contradictions that have appeared in Turkish foreign policy over the last few years. Turkey quarrels with Israel for years…then makes up. For months they are bitter enemies with Russia…then make up. Instead of going out on the streets with the a [national] flag, the writer asks people to go out on the streets with their team’s flags—after all, he points out, most people probably know the last goal that was scored in a recent match but not the name of the latest Turkish soldier to fall victim to terrorism and war in southeast Turkey… Indeed, the form of political support in Turkey—and even, to a degree, in the United States—has come to take on the form of sports fandom. People support their political parties/positions (or, in Mr. Kalemkar’s estimation, Ataturk’s legacy) the way they would a sports team: unquestioningly, unwaveringly, and with an intense dislike—bordering on hatred—for what their opponents support. This, of course, is not the best climate for bridging divides, of which there are many.

Of course, there are others who—despite the best efforts of the state—are willing to show their opinions and emotions. In contrast to the Daily Sabah’s bland piece of propaganda, Turkey’s three major football teams Besiktas, Fenerbahce, and Galatasaray made statements recognizing the Republic Day. All three teams underlined Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s role in creating a country characterized by “unity” and “togetherness”. Galatasaray winger Olcan Adin also made headlines for his Tweet at 00:00 which read “Happy 29 October REPUBLIC day. I cannot be pals with someone who does not like ATATURK…”. Even in an era where personal recognition of the ideals of an era before rampant capitalism and unfettered economic development, it is refreshing to see sports teams stand up in recognition of the nation. That it happens also in the context of industrial football should, of course, not be forgotten.

I wish a happy Republic Day to everyone out there/Cumhuriyet Bayramimiz Kutlu Olsun!

 

 

 

 

FIFA’s Decision to Disband Anti-Racism Task Force Exemplifies Modern Approach to Confronting Racism

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On 25 September 2016 some bizarre news came out of FIFA. Apparently, the much maligned (and for good reason) governing body of world football decided to disband its anti-racism task force focused on racist elements in Russia ahead of the 2018 World Cup. ESPN FC reported that, “FIFA wrote to members of the task force to say that it has ‘completely fulfilled its temporary mission’ and ‘is hereby dissolved and no longer in operation’. (emphasis added). The fact that FIFA could say that its mission was “completely” fulfilled is absurd, and The Guardian’s Archie Bland gives us a good number of reasons why. Mr. Bland rightly notes that racist displays by Russian fans are actually increasing, with 92 racist incidents in the 2014-2015 season compared to 83 over the previous two seasons! In fact, as recently as 28 September 2016 a banana was thrown on a Russian pitch, with the incident coming during a Champions League match between FC Rostov and PSV Eindhoven.

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FIFA Talk a Good Game, But Fall Short Where It Matters. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.espnfc.us/blog/fifa/243/post/2959297/fifa-disbands-anti-racism-task-force-ahead-of-2018-russia-world-cup

It is not a secret that racism is an issue in Russian football, and the website Futbolgrad gives an amazing profile of its history. Interestingly, it is not just racial differences that provoke fans, but it is also different interpretations of what it means to be “Russian”. One Spartak fan reflecting on a 1999 away match in the Caucasus is quoted as saying:

People were fine until we started chanting “Only Russia!” and “Russians, forward!”. Fuck, then all hell broke loose! Everyone got up, started pointing fingers at us, threatening to knife every single one of us! They were like, we’re from Vladikavkaz, we’re also Russian and we live in Russia. Well, what can we do, if these people don’t understand the difference between russkiye [ethnic Russians] and rossiyane [Russian citizens]?

Here it is a tension between ethnic and civic definitions of nationalism that is playing itself out on the terraces of Russian stadia. Such tensions are also visible in Turkish stadiums (between Kurds and Turks) and this is why it is important to realize that racism in sport is not just a Russian problem, nor is it just a football problem.

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Roberto Carlos Was Taunted By a Banana In Russia. Images Courtesy of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2007642/Shame-Russian-football-racist-fans-throw-bananas-Brazilian-superstar-Roberto-Carlos.html

In responding to FIFA’s incomprehensible decision, former Welsh footballer Nathan Blake says something that I have argued in the past—racism is a global problem stemming from global issues. In order to fight it, then, we must recognize its global nature while also realizing that, as Mr. Blake says, “It’s down to people and individuals and a way of thought”; the individual is part of a collective and without realizing this we can get nowhere.

Unfortunately, FIFA’s “taskforce” is a classic example of how, too often, people do lip service to solving racial problems without confronting the fact that it is engrained in some individuals and their wider societies. FIFA’s pathetic attempt to solve racism in football—without ever having a single meeting about it, of course—is just an attempt to throw the issue a bone. Its almost like they said “Hey, this is an important issue that really affects both footballers and fans negatively, so let’s publicize how we are addressing it. Then, when we say we have ‘solved’ it, everyone will be happy and we will look like we did something positive and get good publicity. It’s a win win!”. Unfortunately, FIFA apparently never heard the adage “if something’s too good to be true…it usually isn’t”.

For me, FIFA’s (rather large) pat on their collective back is no different than the individual who says things like “I listen to hip-hop music, I’m not racist” or “I go to Mexican restaurants all the time, I’m not racist” and then pats themselves on the back and continues on with their day. In this case it was “Look, I ran an anti-racism taskforce, so I’m solving racism”. Such self-congratulatory behavior actually has the reverse effect of what it originally desired; instead of lessening racism it in actuality perpetuates it because too often such behavior results in a reverse kind of racism by putting such an emphasis on racial differences. As I have argued before, this does nothing but perpetuate divides within society. The right thing to do is treat people well regardless of their race, gender, nationality, religion, or sexual orientation (and any other difference I may have forgotten, lest I offend) and no one should expect to be congratulated for doing the right thing. Unfortunately people are often too busy putting on the façade of “openness” and “progressiveness” to realize what is happening.

If FIFA did not have the intention to seriously and constructively confront racism in football, and instead wanted to “look good”, then they should not have wasted their time. As football fans, it is our individual responsibility to not engage in racist behavior in stadiums and condemn it when it happens. If we can do that, we will be much more successful than FIFA ever could have been in getting racism out of football.

Hello Kitty and Fenerbahce: Gender and Consumerism in Turkish Football

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On 8 September 2016 Turkish football giants Fenerbahce announced a sponsorship deal with Japanese company Sanrio’s most famous character, Hello Kitty. In an official speech introducing the new agreement, the General Manager of the team’s Fenerium stores, Mümtaz Karakaya, framed the business partnership as one that aims to attract a certain fan demographic:

 Değerli konuklar, hepimizin de bildiği gibi Fenerbahçe’miz sadece erkeklere ait bir spor kulübü değildir. En az erkekler kadar kadınlar, kız ve erkek çocukları da kulübümüzün birer parçasıdır.

“Dear guests, as we all know Fenerbahce is not a sports club that belongs only to men. Women, girls, and boys are—as much as men—all a part of our club”.

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An Unlikely Partnership. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.fenerbahce.org/detay.asp?ContentID=51972

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Fenerbahce Chairman Aziz Yildirim and His Family Share a Moment With What Apparently is Not a Cat. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.fenerbahce.org/detay.asp?ContentID=51972

To prove his point, Mr. Karakaya recalled a match on 20 September 2011 when, due to the team’s punishment, Fenerbahce played in front of a stadium full of 55,000 fans; only females and children under 12 were allowed in. In recognition of this unprecedented game, the club has celebrated 20 September of each year as the “International Day for Women’s Fenerbahce Fans”. Clearly businessmen weren’t the only ones delighted by this PR work, with Fenerbahce player Jozef de Souza noting that “This is also a good partnership for fathers like us. We can present these products [Hello Kitty products] to our children and see their happiness”. Of course they can “show their happiness”, mainly because happiness for children means material goods in this day and age. But Mr. de Souza implies he irecognizes that this partnership can also be seen as making Turkish football more family friendly, which is—of course—a positive development.

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Fenerbahce’s Female Fans. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.fanatik.com.tr/2015/09/20/dunya-fenerbahceli-kadinlar-gunu-kutlandi-621460

In choosing to use Hello Kitty’s cat/girl (which is apparently not a cat at all, bizarrely) in football, however, Fenerbahce are not alone. In March of 2015 Italy’s famous AC Milan inked a similar deal—note the male figure as a devil in contrast to the female figure of the Hello Kitty, which is ironic seeing as how Hello Kitty was once rumored to be—of all things—an homage to the devil. It might be a move on the part of the club to distance themselves from the “femaleness” of the Hello Kitty image; as Bleacher Report reminded us AC Milan fans didn’t know what to do with a sponsor that is “not exactly the most ‘macho’ option out there”. On social media sites, it is clear that while Fenerbahce fans don’t really know how to respond either, fans of their rivals certainly do.

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Boys and Girls in Milan. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.whoateallthepies.tv/kits/210668/ac-milan-announce-exciting-new-partnership-deal-with-hello-kitty.html

Football fan culture is a male dominated one all over the world and Turkey is no exception to this. One small example will suffice: While fans of Besiktas take pride in saying “A man doesn’t support a team with colors” (their colors are black and white; Fenerbahce’s are Navy and Yellow and Galatasaray’s red and yellow), Galatasaray fans respond with “A man doesn’t support a team with wings” (an uncouth reference to pads, since Besiktas are known as “the black eagles” and Fenerbahce “the yellow canaries” while Galatasaray are “the lions”). With fandom being so closely related to masculinity, it seems inevitable that social media was flooded with images poking fun at Fenerbahce’s new sponsor. I have chosen some to share below:

Some images, like this one of a pink bus, feminize the entire team.

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The caption reads “Fenerbahce’s 2016-2017 Team Bus”. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sabah.com.tr/fotohaber/spor/hello-kitty-sponsor-oldu-sosyal-medya-yikildi/4

Another image portrays the team and its players in a child-like light.

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Robin Van Persie’s Lonely Walk. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sabah.com.tr/fotohaber/spor/hello-kitty-sponsor-oldu-sosyal-medya-yikildi/10

This image taken from a match of a masculine human canary–with the banner reading “The Boss Of Europe”–loses (all) of its “oomph” when the Hello Kitty face is plastered over it.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sabah.com.tr/fotohaber/spor/hello-kitty-sponsor-oldu-sosyal-medya-yikildi/10

Other posts poke fun at specific players. The most common target is their sexuality:

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Fenerbahce’s Dutch coach Dick Advocaat may be reconsidering his decision to come to Istanbul after this unflattering image came out. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sabah.com.tr/fotohaber/spor/hello-kitty-sponsor-oldu-sosyal-medya-yikildi/23

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Here we have Fenerbahce’s much-maligned goalkeeper Volkan Demirel (Left) and Robin Van Persie (Right). They are portrayed as modeling the team’s new jerseys–Home on the left, Away on the right. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sabah.com.tr/fotohaber/spor/hello-kitty-sponsor-oldu-sosyal-medya-yikildi/23

Because Mr. Demirel is a favorite target of opposing fans, he was the focus for many of the jokes going around social media. Below are two other examples:

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Here Mr. Demirel is portrayed in a pink Hello Kitty car with the caption “Should I pick you up from home my looooove?”. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sabah.com.tr/fotohaber/spor/hello-kitty-sponsor-oldu-sosyal-medya-yikildi/25

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And here we have a despondent Mr. Demirel, looking frustrated after conceding a goal. A pink bow is photoshopped onto his head with the caption “Hasan Ali, you never come back on defense…” This is a reference to Fenerbahce defender Hasan Ali Kaldirim; the message, however, implies something about the goalkeeper’s sexuality. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sabah.com.tr/fotohaber/spor/hello-kitty-sponsor-oldu-sosyal-medya-yikildi/31

While the sponsorship deal clearly lends itself to ridicule in a sport geared towards the male viewer, it was a female actress—Selin Sekerci—who got the flack for a Tweet poking fun at the sponsorship agreement (she subsequently had to apologize).

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Im Sure Ms. Sekerci Was Surprised at the Response to Her Tweet From Irate Fenerbahce Fans. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.milliyet.com.tr/selin-sekerci-fenerbahcelilerden-fenerbahce-2307764-skorerhaber/

I mention this to show that the kinds of jokes floating around social media, although playing at gender and sexuality, are not only being made by male fans. To discuss online reactions to the sponsorship deal solely in terms of misogyny and sexism may miss the point. It is the mindset of industrial football that made the Fenerbahce brass think that this was a good idea (keep in mind, AC Milan themselves were hard pressed for a sponsor before they reached an agreement with Hello Kitty). When money becomes the guiding factor in football—and not the game—we end up with awkward situations like this one, where a brand represented by a cartoon image of a British girl (NOT cat!) dominates the football headlines.When this happens it shouldn’t surprise anyone that it will result in many (sometimes tasteless) jokes, either.

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