The Brothers
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The Brothers

Racism: Balotelli, Pogba, Raheem Sterling, & the Moise Kean Connection

(It’s not the overt racism that’ll ruin ya, it’s the covert shit)

Ya’ll got it wrong.

It’s not about the monkey sounds. It’s not about the banana peels. That overt racism, while shocking to some and appalling to others, that’s the surface stuff.

While I hear some pundits point to societal ills, that too is only the tip of another iceberg.

Yeah, when I look over at Europe, I know what I’m seeing.

And I’m tired of no one saying anything about the African Elephants in the room. Because the poachers are looking to sterilize, kill, and tusk that animal. That “animal” is the independence and creativity of Black men and that’s what the real problem is.

I was watching the Leicester v Everton match the other day and as has been the case, Leicester was running away with it in the second half.

Having run out of ideas, the troubled (former) Everton Manager, Marco Silva, rushed out this young brother with locks. I ain’t know who he was. But he had pace, was getting between the midfielders and the back four, and within seconds, was through on goal and WHISK was inches away from nestling the ball in the back of the net.

“Who is this?!?” I wondered and, “why didn’t he start?”

His name is Moise Kean.

Now, Moise Kean could be any young, Black footballer but I picked him because the treatment I’ve seen with him is something that I’ve seen over and over again, from managers and pundits which ultimately translates to the general public’s treatment of the players as well.

We’re going to come back to the tale of Moise Kean throughout but first we have to illustrate the difference between how Black players in America were integrated into sports versus how it happened with our European counterparts.

To do that, we have to go all the way back to 19 and 47.

He wasn’t the best.

That’s a well-established fact. There were many Black baseball players that were better. But Branch Rickey wasn’t concerned with the skills of the player as much as he was focused on their temperament.

Rickey knew that any Black player coming into the MLB from the Negro Leagues in segregated America would be subjected to humiliation and harassment. Rickey also knew that most white people wouldn’t be open to this Black man’s presence.

We could go into the deeper issue of how this move to desegregate destroyed the Negro Leagues and ultimately eliminated Black folk from baseball OR we could go into the fight among Black folk to make this integration happen in the first place but that’s not the focus of this article.

What is the focus, however, is the type of Black man Branch Rickey was looking for.

Ok. First off, we know when Rickey began his search the top draws in the Negro Leagues were Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson but both were older (for one) and (for two) neither fit the acceptable Black male mode.

Neither were college educated, not to mention, Gibson was a heavy drinker, and neither he nor Paige were the take shit type negros.

Despite the fact that Jackie Robinson was an activist, he had grown up in Pasadena, gone to UCLA, was articulate, and used to white folk. He was perfect.

Little did Jackie Robinson know, he would be the example of “the acceptable Black man athlete” from then to eternity.

From the civil rights/Black power movement, decadent 70s, rise of Hip-Hop, and cyber revolution — many years later, team owners, general managers, head coaches and staff still prefer the Jackie Robinson Black male above all others.

Mario Balotelli is Italian.

He was born in Palermo, he’s played for the Italian team and is a legal citizen, but many Italians only see Mario Barwuah — the son of Ghanaian immigrants — and the Italians don’t suffer immigrants gladly — but we’ll get to that.

Balotelli was a rising star striker brought to Inter by Roberto Mancini at seventeen. Mancini left Inter to manage Manchester City and in came Jose Mourinho.

Suddenly, reports of Balotelli’s attitude began to surface. He, at eighteen, was considered a problem and despite all the promise he had shown to land him at Inter, Mourinho deemed Balotelli “uncoachable.”

Over the next few years, Mourinho and Balotelli would have epic rows until finally, Balotelli had enough and forced a move to join Mancini at City.

And…he had problems there as well. In fact, he’s continued to have problems wherever he’s gone.

Balotelli has suffered extreme amounts of racism abroad and home in Italy where his own fans protested him being made captain by waving banners that said, “my captain has Italian blood.”

Many readers would look at Balotelli’s record and conclude that he obviously is the problem. The constant in his situation wherever he’s gone has been him.

But few of them will look back at that young impressionable teenager; a young man who may have had no problem but was pushed to a point where he began to believe it about himself — that he was problematic and that became a self-fulfilling prophecy — a teen that grew into an adult who now has a chip on his shoulder to the point where he takes on a slogan, “Why Always Me?”

Let’s look at an American equivalent to show the difference.

It started long before “The Hit” (a cracking tackle heard round the American football universe).

Yeah, media attention surrounding Jadeveon Clowney goes back to when he was in high school. One of the most highly recruited defense backs in eons, Clowney was making ESPN Magazine covers back when he was in high school. He ran a 4.46 forty, he benched 345, he was already a legend.

Cut To him being in college. The coverage continues — New York Times Magazine article is how I hear about him — everyone predicts that Clowney will be a top draft pick.

And he is.

The Texans use their first draft pick to land Clowney. On paper, it’s a great move. Clowney — JJ Watt, where can you go wrong?

Where? By being the same person that the Texans drafted. The bad press rolls in with Clowney’s first season like the horror movie Fog — part of which is driven by the Texans poor handling of him (Clowney).

Clowney’s commitment is questioned, he’s deemed a bad fit, the Texans’ management refuse to sign his contract, and happily let him go to the Seahawks.

Clowney has gone on the record saying he was blindsided:

I didn’t ask them to trade me. I didn’t even ask them to pay me any more. I just wanted to play one last year with my teammates.

Now, similarly to what happened with Marshawn Lynch a few years back (where he joined Seattle after being a problem in Buffalo), Clowney has become central to the new, resurgent Seahawks.

What gives? How has he gone from being a problem to a solution? When asked about Lynch’s turnaround Seattle coach Pete Carroll gave the simple solution, he allowed Lynch to be himself. Apparently, that’s worked with Clowney as well.

And that brings us to Paul Pogba.

Gary Neville refers to him as “certain players.”

Graeme Souness believes that he represents everything that’s wrong with football.

“Uncoachable.”

This was the narrative surrounding Paul Pogba during the 2017/2018 season; a long way from “the best midfielder in the world.” Those were José Mourinho’s words at the beginning of the 2016 season. How things changed.

But a flashback to 2012/13 gives us a different picture.

Pogba went to Juventus for little to nothing. Sir Alec Ferguson accused Pogba’s agent, the infamous Mino Raiola of tainting the mind of the young player and causing friction with the club.

But we don’t see any mention of Raiola once Pogba is on Juventus. Nor do we see Raiola’s name popping up when Pogba won the Golden Boy award in 2013 — solidifying him as the best young player in the world.

Under Conte, Pogba flourished. Whether it was in a five man midfield or three, Pogba was able to create and score goals. He had a presence. So much so that comparisons between him and another French Midfielder, Patrick Vieira, were common.

Pogba’s stock rose to the tune of $100M, which was the price that Manchester United paid to get him back. And that’s around the time Mourinho made that above quote.

But it was a disappointing season for Manchester United. The “Special One” could only manage to get Manchester United into sixth place that year. Despite their place on the table, Mourinho still supported Pogba.

Then came the tumultuous 2017/18 season.

Pogba got injured. Hamstring. Chose to recover in Miami. And that, dear reader, that was the beginning of the end.

When Pogba returned, Mourinho started subbing him out early…or not playing him at all. The claim was a “drop in form” and “lack of discipline.” By March of 2018, the two weren’t even speaking.

Despite all of that, Manchester United finished second.

Then came World Cup 2018.

The pundits didn’t give France much of a chance. They had Pogba and he was “a selfish player” that “lacked discipline.” If you follow football, you know how that ended. The World Cup ended up with France the victors, Pogba playing a crucial role as well as taking on a leadership position in that victory, and a sudden change of opinion about Paul Pogba.

Pogba returned to Man U and Mourinho’s micro aggressions.

Although Mourinho’s gone, questions continue to circulate about Pogba’s commitment to anything beyond Paul Pogba.

But why didn’t this narrative exist at Juventus or on the World Cup winning French team?

Let’s check back in with Moise Kean.

Peep Souness.

Kean ain’t played nare moment on the Everton side and he’s already taking the piss.

“I think there’ll be other issues there.” Did Graeme Souness say these words about Joao Felix? No?

Moise Kean was viewed as a rising, striking starlet having scored six goals in seventeen appearances and even was on the Golden Boy shortlist.

His arrival at Everton was seen as a coup.

But that wouldn’t last long. The usual suspects cropped up — being late, needing to adjust to a new league, etc. As a result, this striking starlet, Golden Boy shortlister has been benching it.

And if the Everton v Manchester United match (15 Dec 19) is any indication of what’s been going on behind closed doors, Ferguson is attempting to make an example of Kean. Why else would you sub a man on and then pull him after eighteen minutes?

And it reminded me of the very visual, very harsh treatment of Raheem Sterling.

Maybe if the Being Liverpool scene with Brendan Rodgers having a tender moment with Jonjo Shelvey hadn’t proceeded this one, then it wouldn’t have been so jarring.

But it did.

There was Rodgers, walking up to Shelvey. Away from the group. Damn near whispering to Jonjo about how important Shelvey was to the team. Next. Damn. Scene. Rodgers is admonishing the shit out of Raheem Sterling…making an example of him.

Raheem Sterling had a breakout season (2012) when he was young (similarly to Balotelli) followed by a season (2013) confined to the bench. One article I read even suggested that Sterling be put on loan to an MLS team.

Until Sterling writes an autobiography, we won’t know all that he endured but what we do know is Raheem fought to get a transfer. The 2014/15 season was clouded by the Sterling transfer saga with the height of it coming with the BBC interview — the one titled “I’m not a money grabber.”

There were questions of Sterling’s attitude, his commitment to the game, his off-field behavior. He was maligned and booed at the end of season (14/15) awards ceremony. When Raheem became the English player with the highest transfer fee that landed him at Manchester City, his reputation was shot to shit.

And that could have been the end.

Raheem Sterling could have gone the way of Balotelli or he could be in the current situation that Pogba’s in…but his story would become quite the opposite.

Since Pep Guardiola has been leading Manchester City, Sterling has become the prototypical example of what white men want to see in Black men — humble, hard working, very little flair — role models.

Pundits love him. Everyone loves him. They love the way he handles outward racism. They love how his game has improved, and, when he had a bust-up with Joe Gomez at the England National Training ground, even that couldn’t taint his new image. Everyone loves Raheem Sterling.

Ya see, if you’re familiar with the NBA, you can’t even imagine it how it used to be in its sterile, white, conservative days. Now, like the NFL, the National Basketball Association is 75% Black.

And everyone has had to adjust. Unlike the NFL, the NBA doesn’t keep a tight fisted hold on its image. Both leagues still have front offices that are majority white, and both leagues still have few Black coaches (the NFL has a paltry two and the NBA, eight). But one thing is for certain, the NBA has done a better job at allowing players to be themselves.

Sure there are still some shackles on creative play but by and large, players enter the league (and leave it) with their identity intact.

The game has had to adjust. The advertising has had to adjust.

The NFL on the other hand, not so much so. Their core audience is Joe Six Pack and there’s nothing that he hates more than some buckdancing nigger. He’ll allow some concessions, sure. You can celebrate after you score but cut that damn taking a knee shit out. Whatever you do, reflects them and the NFL is big bitness.

So in that regard, the NFL is the closest American sibling to European football.

We mentioned Clowney above because his move to Seattle is not much unlike Pogba’s playing for the French National Team. One of Pete Carroll’s top principles is that players should be true to themselves and in doing so, it helps them to compete. Take in ten minutes of TFI’s Les Bleus 2018, Au Coeur de l’Épopée Russeand and you can see that Didier Deschamps managed with a similar aim.

Pogba was at his best with the National Team, not because N’Golo Kante buttressed up the midfield. No. He was at his best because he was free to be himself, free of scrutiny and judgement. In that environment, like when he played for Juventus, he flourished.

But that’s not the reality with most coaches and managers.

The reality is — for them, it’s not about training Black men, it’s about taming them. It’s not about whether they are coachable or team players, it’s about forcing them to bend to the manager/coach’s will — policing our Black bodies. We innovate, they change the rules. We celebrate a touchdown, they ban the celebration.

That other racism — that’s child’s play. That isn’t the type of racism that destroys a man’s confidence or the type of racism that makes one question their every decision nor is it the time of racism that can end a man’s career.

Which brings us back to Moise Kean. The move from wunderkind to ostracized premadonna only took a few months and unless Duncan Ferguson or the next manager gives him a clean slate, he could easily be going the Balotelli/Pogba route…maybe he can take the Raheem Sterling path, but being able to remain himself? He’ll have to first recognize that his identity is what’s at stake.

No monkey chant can take that away from him. Only that subtle, institutional racism that oozes throughout Europe (and most places where managers have to contend with self-confident, talented Black men) can do that.

I promise you, I could’ve written a novel about this but hop on them hyperlinks instead — they’re your friends, click them clapping hands, share, share alike — and never forget, The Honorable Elijah Muhammad said that the Greatest Teaching is to Accept Your Own and Be Yourself.

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The Brothers will discuss any and everything, whether it’s comics, movies, or even one’s favorite falafel spot. We will show you what you already know — Black men have perspective; greater still, a VOICE.

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mauludSADIQ

mauludSADIQ

b-boy, Hip-Hop Investigating, music lovin’ Muslim

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