The Great White Disappointment
Somewhere out there is probably a word that better describes this feeling: being unfortunately correct, disappointed, unsurprised, amused, furious, and sad all at once. That is about the way to describe the reaction to, and the reaction to the reaction to, FC Cincinnati's 61 year old white Dutch manager resigning amid an investigation into his use of a racial slur in the locker room.
The details have been laid out pretty well elsewhere, and if you want those a subscription to the Cincinnati Enquirer and The Athletic are well worth it. This isn't about what happened. This is about what happened after what happened.
See, soccer has a reputation in the United States for being a sport that has fans that are typically younger, more liberal, and culturally inclusive, and if your only impression of American soccer came from Portland, Atlanta, and Seattle, that would be totally founded.
But things are a little different here in Cincinnati, aren't they?
We live in a tri-state area that includes several cities and states, and within reasonable driving distance of rural counties less apt to be bastions of progressive values than say, the Pacific Northwest or black Mecca as my colleague and fellow The Post contributor Max Ellerbe, describes Atlanta. Though generally skewing toward the progressive, Cincinnati is a city divided down the middle on many issues like race, politics, and Vine Street; and it is highly tribalistic. By the way, which high school did you go to? Oh on that side of the city?
When the news first broke that the manager was being investigated for using a racial slur in the locker room, who do you think many of the fans turned on? If this was a liberal fan base that recently went to war with their club about being able to show anti-racist and anti-fascist symbols at games, you would probably expect the entire fan base to lash out at the manager who used the racial slur. But nope! Several of our fans turned on a black player they assumed filed the complaint, assumed without a shred of evidence. They are probably still leaving horrible comments on his twitter posts right now, days later.
Yes, to some, somehow it was a black man's fault that the white manager used a racial slur. It would appear those anti-racist symbols didn't quite work.
There has always been an element of racism in the language around FC Cincinnati from some fans. In 2016 everyone knew that despite Sean Okoli winning the golden boot and MVP, he was actually “lazy”. And Djiby Fall was certainly “lazy”, despite scoring some of the most important goals in club history. Alvas Powell had one bad game, the first game (one in which Corben Bone and Eric Alexander started) and the fan base completely wrote off one of MLS' most promising fullbacks (a full Jamaican international with blistering pace and an eye for goal). Fanendo Adi, while certainly not helping himself with his drinking and driving incident, was a lightning rod of abuse in this city. A suggestion of the 2020 team roster can't be posted without people ready to put a totally unknown white defender in place of the team's captain and regular MLS all-star in Kendall Waston. All the while, other players on the roster are seen as untouchable fan favorites despite not having the production to match.
Any one of these in a vacuum might make sense to the person saying it. Maybe they're just not used to poaching strikers and their style of play, or maybe they're just excited about a new signing coming in and performing. But these voices taken as a whole, and so many of them completely unjustified, paints an uncomfortable picture of this fan base.
And if it had just stopped there, it probably would not have merited writing this. But it didn't.
For the last few days a myriad of posts have been posing all the greatest hits of, "I So Rarely Interact With Anyone Outside My Own Ethnic Identity I Don't Know How To Talk About Race and Culture Without Getting Unnecessarily Angry" questions. Classics like, "Why can't white people say the N Word?" and, "If I can't say that word why should black people be allowed to say that word?" and least we forget the modern classics, "They shouldn't be allowed to say those words in songs if they don't want white people singing along to them", and, "You're saying I can't say the word at all in any context?" It would be funny if it wasn't soul crushing.
This week has been a brutal reminder that some of this FC Cincinnati fan base is at best torn, and at worst, not being honest with itself. Iron Front banners were carried by some of the the same people who are ready to side with the a white coach in a story about him creating an uncomfortable and unworkable environment for players of color. It is a fan base that has largely accepted and adopted a foreign sport with worldly connections in every direction, but is still viewing it with a perspective that is closed-minded, racially charged, and an inability and unwillingness to learn more than they feel they already have.
If ever there was a time for the supporter groups to step up and be cultural leaders of the fan base, this is it. It's in moments like these that our fanbase, consciously or unconsciously, decides what kind of fan base it is going to be. And fan bases have reputations. And those reputations matter. If you are a fan of this team, this moment is in the highest tier of importance.
And if there were ever a moment to test the connective power of soccer, this is it. Soccer has been used to heal old wounds, end wars, defy dictators, fight racism, and better connect our global community than any international organization or treaty could ever accomplish. That immense power of good that sport brings to the table, on a global scale, is now being offered up to the FC Cincinnati fan base. An international racial incident, where your own players didn't feel conformable, with a manager who was unfamiliar with the culture in which he was operating, learned a very difficult lesson this week. Hopefully our fans are able to learn this one as well, but the early signs are not good.
If you have the opportunity to talk to a fellow fan about this incident, do it. Talk to them. Let them know you're happy the club was willing to move on from a manager that created an unworkable environment for players. Fans talking to fans, and confronting racist or bigoted perspectives is how this fan base can begin to move forward. This incident may have brought a lot of the ugliness up, but it didn't create it; it’s been here the whole time. Now that it's been exposed, it is time to move in and address it head on.