Mario Balotelli’s apology was simple, yet remarkable in its rarity
Few players — few people, in fact — have admitted they were wrong to have made racist remarks.
There is absolutely no shame in being wrong. The only disgrace is in being wrong, yet vicariously defending that position out of fear or the human obsession with playing the victim.
Mario Balotelli was recently suspended for a racist Instagram post. The post itself is wholly ironic: a picture of Mario, the video game character, in a jumping stance under the words “Don’t be racist! Be like Mario. He’s an Italian plumber, created by Japanese people, who speaks English and looks like a Mexican.” So far so good, it’s a whimsical message attempting to combat racism with comedy. Then you read the words under the cartoon character that says “…jumps like a black man and grabs coins like a Jew.” Battling racism with racism — an act that’s so exasperating that you’re lost for words; all you can really do is shake your head and sigh deeply.
Balotelli immediately turned to the universal format used when defending racism. The infamous, “I can’t be racist because my ____ is _____.” Specifically, he tweeted “my mom is jewish so all of u shut up please” while taking down the initial picture when fans confronted him about the post.
That excuse is problematic for a myriad number of reasons, yet it is the Robben’s cut inside move of racism, although a lot less successful. Knowing someone of a certain ethnicity or race, regardless of how close to you they are, does not excuse or grant you a license to be a racist, say racist things or promote damaging stereotypes. Believe in that statement with the same zeal that Xavi believes in Tika-Taka.
What happened next is pretty remarkable, not in the sense that it is extraordinary but because it is so rare. Balotelli was rightfully suspended for his post and fined by the FA, who also ordered him to attend an education program. But because of Balotelli’s compliance, admittance and apology, the forward was suspended for just one match. He uploaded another picture shortly after the ruling, explaining his intention to comply with the FA’s decision, his regret at letting down his teammates and asserting that such a thing will never happen again.
It seems so simple, yet this — the admittance, apology and desire to change — seems to be the most difficult of processes for the guilty. But Balotelli not only listened to and acknowledged the FA’s decision, but — despite his initial defense of the photo — also listened to their reasoning and then apologized. Balotelli put his ego aside and paid attention to what those who he offended had to say. When it was made clear to him why he was wrong and how his picture was offensive, he took full responsibility for it.
There must always be a bit of caution in praising someone for climbing out of a hole fashioned by their own hands, yet this incident is significant. There’s no denying that racism is rampant in football, but it remains so not only due the indifference of the audience but the pig-headed stubbornness of the abusers.
A few years ago, evidence showed that Luis Suárez used racially charged words against Patrice Evra during a match. Suárez himself admitted he’d said such things, but defended his words by saying the words used carried different meaning in Spanish. Liverpool players donned shirts in support of their teammate, while fans booed Evra. It was cringe-worthy. It was shameful. It could’ve been avoided had Suárez simply apologized, but even years later, he still refuses to admit the words were hurtful.
A week later, a similar incident occurred between John Terry and Anton Ferdinand. Terry, too, denied wrongdoing, even after being found guilty. The defender acted as though a witch hunt was being conducted, grasping at straws and besmirching his name further, when admittance and an apology would have cleared his name.
There seems to be a belief that being labeled as a racist is much more detrimental than actually being racially abusive. Yet while people will likely remember that Balotelli said a racist thing that one time, many will say Suárez and Terry are racists. These individuals, rather than accept responsibility for their actions, slink back to their role of the victim in order to shield themselves from change.
That’s one of the biggest differences from being a racist and saying a racist thing. In one, you don’t see anything wrong with what you have done but rather, the fault is with how the world perceives you. In the other, you acknowledge that you are indeed wrong and work to change. Denial of wrongdoing announces that what you did was not a mistake — rather, it is an ingrained belief that you see no harm in possessing.
Few people would ever deny someone the chance to change. Fewer would be aggrieved at a sincere apology. The frustration and anger comes when the intelligence and emotion of the abused is questioned and disregarded. Yes, sometimes people are easily offended, but that does not invalidate the pain. It is your responsibility to acknowledge the hurtful nature of your words and actions, rather than to try to hide behind nonsensical statements like “it was just banter” or that you somehow racially abused someone in an affectionate way. That it’s endearing in your country. And that your girlfriend is really real, she just goes to another school and no one has ever met her.
This need to always be the victim, even if you’re the perpetrator, is deeply ingrained in the human psyche. It seems to be the by-product of seeing oneself as life’s protagonist and everyone else as supporting characters. It’s your story, so everything is always as you mean it and never as others perceive it. And even when you mean it in the worst way possible, the fault is still with those who speak against you. This enables a situation where you will always be faultless and infallible, where being called a racist is much more than actually being a racist.
Balotelli, of course, has been a victim, a victim of this same racism. It is much easier for him to address victims and admit his wrongdoings since he has been at the mercy of the same vileness. But admitting he was wrong still demonstrated maturity. It meant acknowledging, admitting and apologizing, it meant putting aside the burning desire to play the victim aside and it meant actually listening to people that were hurt. It is so simple, yet so remarkable.