While Clippers owner Donald Sterling may be occupying the headlines with his rant about Magic Johnson and black basketball players on Instagram, NBA owners hardly (and sadly) don’t hold a monopoly on racism in sports. Yesterday, in a soccer match between Barcelona and Villarreal, a fan threw a banana onto the pitch at Barcelona defender Dani Alves, who is a Brazilian born defender for Barca. Alves responded in the best way possible to the incident — he took a bite out of the fruit and continued to play. In a nice bit of karma, Barcelona would ultimately come away from the match with a 3-2 victory.
Banana hurling is nothing new to the game of soccer, which has a wide history of hooliganism and other unsavory activity among its fandom, and the fruit has been chucked in a derogatory fashion for some time (you can read a history of banana throwing in pro sports here, courtesy of NBC Sports.) Certainly, this isn’t the first time Alves has been subjected to the activity.
“We have suffered this in Spain for some time,” Alves told ESPN FC. “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.”
The throw was quickly decried by both clubs, with Barca and Villarreal issuing comments condemning the action and, in Villarreal’s case, the sad fact that it came from one of their own fans. Arguably the best response came from Alves’s teammate, Barcelona attacker Neymar (yeah, he goes by one name), who posted the above photo to Instagram with the hashtag “weareallmonkeys.” The response has taken off, with hundreds of fans responding in kind (that is, posing with a half-eaten banana.) Even Italy’s Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, got in on the action, snapping a photo earlier today.
Whether it will ever be possible to regulate racism out of professional sports remains to be seen. Hopefully, fans will take more cues from players who stand against close-minded behavior than those that perpetuate it. Or, as Villarreal put it — with a translation that evoked Mr. T — “Pity to see an ignoramus capable of such a lamentable act. There is no room for it in sport and even less in our club.”