(Okay, maybe not the entire history of sports, with the heroic actions of Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Jack Johnson, Althea Gibson and so many others who paved the way for the integration of sports. But at least in this new century...)
With the happenings of the past 72 hours, it would be easy to think that I am referring to one of the many responses to the newly released but unsurprising alleged racist musings of LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling. If I were simply referring to a good response, I'd have plenty to choose from -- from the words of President Obama, to Doc Rivers, to the normally-notoriously-quiet-on-these-matters Michael Jordan.
I could be referring to the black socks and/or accessories worn by several teams as protest after initially writing off the idea as "radical", instead choosing to make a show of solidarity. I could be referring to the creative messages displayed by fans at stadiums. Or, I could be talking about the beautiful symbolic move by the Clippers as they removed their team gear and piled it at half-court during warmups, which brought tears to the eyes of more than one sports fan.
But as important as each of those responses is in its own way -- and many could and have argued that much more should have been done -- they are all just the beginning of what will ultimately be done in this story.
No, I'm not talking about anything having to do with Donald Sterling, the LA Clippers, or the NBA. Across the Atlantic Ocean this weekend, the ugly head of racism once again reared its head in the world's most popular sport.
The sad thing is that the target of this racist act has faced it often before. In fact, Barcelona's Dani Alves called fighting racism "a lost war" after being the target of monkey chants during a match at Real Madrid in the last year. But Sunday, when he was targeted by Villareal supporters, he won the battle in the best way possible.
When racist fans throw a banana at him before a corner kick, Alves clearly bends down, peels the banana ... and eats it, before kicking the ball and resuming play as if nothing happened. What was meant as a cruel gesture was deflated by a moment of humor and the clear statement that racism would not beat Dani Alves. After the game, Alves said about the incident:
"We have suffered this in Spain for some time. You have to take it with a dose of humor. We aren't going to change things easily. If you don't give it importance, they don't achieve their objective."I would submit that Alves did much more than "[not] give it importance". Alves did the absolute worst (best!) thing we can do to racists: he took the power away from the racist fan, and made that fan look like the trite and pathetic fool he is. (It's worth noting that moments later he lofted a cross that resulted in a goal off the head of a teammate, adding injury to insult toward the offending fans.)
We have much too far to go when it comes to eradicating racism in society. But on weekends like this, when we are able to face it for what it is, discuss it openly, and even get a few wins, I'm able to hold on to the sometimes too-distant hope that just maybe my grandchildren will actually get to see Dr. King's dream fulfilled.