The Global Game on a Local Level: Soccer meets Gentrification

I’ve been in living in the Bay Area for 17 years, with 14 of those years being in San Francisco. I am currently a San Francisco resident, I work for a website, and I am black. That makes me extremely rare. It is unfortunate that that is the case, but it is a reality in which I live. I also frequent the playground in which this debate took place. I usually play basketball on the court in seen occasionally pop up in the background of the video. Once, I relived my AYSO days and played soccer on this very field. I even scored a goal (minimal celebration, I acted like I had been there before). It is one of the most beautiful soccer field and basketball court in at least a 2 mile radius that I know of, and it is (probably now “was”) somewhat of a hidden gem of the mission, if there is such a thing. The soccer field is usually full on any given night, packed with San Francisco’s small but proud latino constituency. I recall one evening when going to the basketball court, and I saw what looked to be a “private” reservation, with a “different” demographic. I only saw it once, and it was only for a short time, but when I saw it, I thought to myself, “Uh oh, this is going to be a problem.”, so when the video of the altercation was released, it was not much of a surprise to me, not because of the wave of gentrification, but because I saw it at a much earlier stage on this particular field.

I’ve seen the video. I’ve read commentary. I’ve had discussions with friends. This is another chapter in the class/race/social divide that has been the subject of discourse for many conversations amongst my peers, and the discussions are more than frequent. They are almost a daily occurrence, simply because the state of the city effects so many of my working class friends, roommates, and people of the artists community, which I consider myself apart of. Gentrification is our everyday existance.

The knee jerk reaction is one that we’ve heard over, and over and over again, almost to the point of nausium. Rich, white, techies from out of town move in to a neighborhoood and appropriate the people of color and natives, driving up the rent, forcing us to move out. Stop me if you’ve heard this one. But because this is the constant narrative, doesn’t mean that it’s not true, such as in the case of the Soccer Field video. The purpose of this essay is to not only side with the characteristic commentary of gentrification, but also add new layers to what is not said in the heated discussion.

Although gentrification is about class, this is particular case is not about flaunting wealth, contrary to the Native’s claim. According to the techie, the field cost $27, which for a group of people, for all intents and purposes, is not a lot of money, nor do I know the techie’s financial standing. Although gentrification is about newly adaptive residents displacing long term residents, this particular case isn’t about “Who’s lived here the longest.” I’ve been here for almost 17 years and call myself an longstanding member of the community, and my time here can be trumped by half of my friends. You work at Dropbox? I don’t care where you work. It’s not about that. What it IS about is it’s about the systems, and the understanding of how to navigate burearacracies and procedure. This is the secret language that people of privilege have been taught, while for people without a history of privilege, this has been an oversight, and in many cases, denied.

I remember going to this playground about a year and a half ago on a Tuesday. I wanted to take a break while biking up Valencia to watch some soccer, and stumbled across the basketball court which is tucked in the back of the park. It’s hard to see from Valencia Street, and woudn’t be noticed unless you walked into the park. I walked up to the court. “Can I run with y'all?” “Sure”. I’ve never seen any of these people in my life. No contract. No paper work. Just like when I was a kid, I asked and I played. After about an hour of playing, I asked, “When are y’all out here?” “We play on Tuesdays” “Cool, see you next Tuesday.” That’s a agreement, a handshake, an invitation, a thank-you card, all rolled into one. Whatever you want to call it, that’s how a community works. You wanna play? You play. Wanna play again? I’ll see you next Tuesday. If I don’t see you next Tuesday, I’ll see you the Tuesday after that, or I’ll see you around the way. The informality echoes the issues with many of the latino property owners fighting to keep their dwellings and storefronts in the mission. Many properties were bartered, signed with a handshake, no bureaucracy, just your word, and that was enough.

With the ability to navigate systems, you can speak a language that’s not taught to everyone. It is taught to those who can benefit from such systems, that have benefited from those same systems in the past. You may know how to juggle stocks, have a trust fund, you may have began a 401k at a young age, things that may not be taught in most public schools. These are things that are handed down to each generation of privilege by family, those who know how the system works. For people who save money in a shoebox under their bed, and pay their rent with cash every month, it may not be the best way, but it’s the way we know, and it’s the way that works for us. We don’t trust banks all the time. We don’t believe that city officials always have our best interests at heart. Those men in badges have had a sketchy past when it comes to dealing with situations involving people of color, and we all know that I’m expressing that lightly. Throughout history, all of those government sanctioned entities may have worked in your favor, but we can’t say the same. We don’t trust the system, because the system wasn’t built for us, therefore it doesn’t protect us, so historically, we’ve protect our own, and looked after ourselves.

Let’s apply that theory to the playground discussion, a much smaller scale, and this is where the discrepancies come into play. Yes, you could have stumbled upon this beautiful soccer field (just like I did the basketball court) and thought “I’d love to reserve that field for me and my friends”, when home and did some research on how to go through the proper channels. You could have went to the website, made a few phone calls, selected a time from the pull down menu on the site, paid the meager $27, composed an Evite, and pressed send. That’s excellent planning, and you should be commended for that. However, that’s not the way the community works. People who are of the community, we don’t come to the playground with formalities, we come with our own ball. We don’t come with paperwork outlining our reservations, we call “next”. If someone got next, “I got next after them”. It’s first come, first serve. I pick my own players. Not necessarily my friends, but the ones who give me the best chance to win so I can stay on until someone beats us off. We call our own fouls and we respect the call. We talk shit, we claw, scratch, and fight, then give daps after the game. It’s a mutual respect, and it’s all love.

That’s how community ball works, every street, every court, and every field in every hood. That’s how it’s been, that’s how it was, and that’s how it’s going to be.