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“There are no black Italians!”

This is the first line of an article just published at Time magazine's website about Mario Balotelli, an Italian soccer player - well, these days THE Italian soccer player.  It's also a popular chant in Italy during the matches he plays in.

His nickname is Super Mario to some. This is where he used to go to work:

Racism in European soccer is a problem. It's a problem for the sport all over the world really. As more people of color achieve success in European leagues long dominated by whites, resentment is high.

Mario Balotelli was born in Sicily to Ghanaian parents. He endured horrible racism from chanting Italians while becoming a star in Serie A Italian club soccer. This past season he starred on the English Premier League winning Manchester City team. Now the Italian national team he's leading will be in the Euro2012 Final against Spain, he having just scored the two goals that beat Germany today.

Mario is no stranger to controversy. He taunts the fans. He walks the field like Ali walked the ring. The uneasiness between him and many in the stands is always palpable. When he goes to work, he knows he'll see and hear racial taunting that would lead to serious violence in different contexts.

Like many of the American sports stars we remember most, Balotelli is a pioneer in his sport and every professional success he has is another blow against racism and prejudice.

Indeed, just this week the leading Italian sports daily ran a cartoon of Balotelli as King Kong, which DuBois noted was using a “racial vocabulary not that far from that of the Croatian fans” fined by the tournament organizers for throwing bananas onto the pitch to humiliate Balotelli.


One day, young black Italian kids will be unproblematically integrated into the national football team, perhaps even into the nation it represents. And when that happens, they’ll look back on Mario Balotelli as their Jackie Robinson... There’s arguably even a little of the young Muhammad Ali in a young man so brash and confident in his talents, yet speaking his mind on a world whose rules he believes his stacked against him, and people like him.

I show the picture of Obama and Ali above because it always struck me as profound, as it did for many. But I also show it because like Obama, Balotelli comes from a mixed race background, not genetically, but he was adopted by white parents.

amid the triumphant celebrations of his teammates after the final whistle, Balotelli ran off into the crowd and embraced an elderly white woman — Silvia Balotelli, the mother who had adopted him at age 3, and who had held the hand of the fearful young Mario every night until he was asleep. “These goals are for you,” he told her. She appeared to be crying.

Balotelli’s goals (together with an earlier one against Ireland that remains a contender for goal of the tournament) not only confirmed him as the most dangerous striker at Euro 2012; they were direct hits on the scourge of racism that continues to dog the game. As hundreds of thousands of Italians danced with joy on the streets at his achievement, Balotelli took off his shirt — an offense that requires a yellow card under the rules of the game — and clenched his muscles like a body builder. Here is my black Italian skin, he seemed to be saying, to the people of the country that adopted him but which hasn’t necessarily accepted him, and remains plagued with a prejudice that denies his dignity. There he stood, an Italian hero black and proud, inviting his teammates, and all of Italy, to embrace him — and along with him, a different concept of the boundaries of Italian identity. The impact on millions of Italians will have been electric. And who can doubt that the tens of thousands of African migrants who live on the margins of some of Italy’s larger cities will have walked a lot taller on Thursday night.

“There are no black Italians!” So go the chants even now and they'll continue. But as people of color continue to excel in venues they hadn't previously had access to, and via personal stories and images like those above - progress happens, Change happens, and talent keeps rising to the top, where it belongs.

And PS, when I saw that picture of Balotelli just above today (after he scored his 2nd goal), I couldn't ignore the fact that it's how I felt after hearing the Supreme Court's judgement on Obama's healthcare plan.

12:50 PM PT: Thanks for the Rec list everyone. I just wish Obama had been able to hug his mom after his victory yesterday like Balotelli was. But sadly, no. And that's why us progressives continue to fight here in America - for healthcare, for women's rights, for social justice for everyone.

Originally posted to addikell on Fri Jun 29, 2012 at 02:15 AM PDT.

Also republished by The Wide World of Sports, Black Kos community, and Barriers and Bridges.

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