Barça went to Espanyol, to Cornella, and got a draw. Conditions were abysmal, errors were made that directly led to the Espanyol goal, which drove their supporters into a frenzy. To say this edition of the Catalan derby was packed with morbo would be an understatement.
A great many things happened during the match, from red card fouls that weren’t treated as such, to a deliberate, cynical attempt to injure Gerard Pique, the scorer of the equalizer, who put a finger to his lips to silence the home supporters. There was rain. So much rain that you could be forgiven for thinking Messi was indeed divine, as he walked on water time and again.
And at the end, Samuel Umtiti and Sergio Garcia, the same player who attempted on-pitch ankle surgery on the Barça defender, came together. And Umtiti went berserk. Pique had to restrain him, and the speculation began.
Umtiti is a calm, cool defender, as unruffled as the day is long. And he had a moment. A serious one. Racism was the predominant notion, because what else could it have been to turn a cool player into a frothing pit of rage?
After the match, there were reports, allegations. Sergio Garcia denied them for a while and then, on Monday morning, issued one of the crappiest mea culpas you will ever witness, saying essentially that he did racially abuse Umtiti, but he wasn’t racist. He even lives in a mixed-race area, his wife has gypsy roots and — the tried and true — he even has an “African-American” friend.
Well, there ya go.
There is nuance in a lot of situations that can be perceived as “racist.” Luis Suarez, in the dispute with Patrice Evra, used the word “negro.” Evra took offense, suggesting that as it was the heat of the moment with people in a rage, the word was meant to hurt. The FA agreed, but debate roiled.
For South American folks, “negro” is used in a number of ways. Note that when Carles Alena wished Wilfried Kaptoum well, he used “negrito” in the congratulatory paragraph on social media. A South American or Spaniard can use “negro” and not necessarily have racist intention.
But by accounts, Sergio Garcia didn’t use “negro” in any context. His alleged words were “you black shit.” Hard to find a lot of nuance there. Mundo Deportivo reports that the incident might (key words here) have been in the official’s report, which would be remarkable, and complex for both Barça and La Liga.
Sergio Garcia, in his non apology, added that he talked to Umtiti after the match, and what happens on the pitch stays on the pitch. Um. No.
He talked to Umtiti after the match, and for him, that makes it okay. Of course, he can talk to Umtiti, but what could he honestly do, compared to what he wanted to do? Racism is a clear attempt to take someone’s humanity. And a lot of folks who face that situation respond with rage, anger and violence. Once, a white man slurred a black man at an event I was attending. It didn’t go well for the man who flung the slur. Sergio Garcia talked to Umtiti. What did he say, and what did Umtiti want to do? What could he do? Stand there and deal with his rage, is what. Suppress it, because society doesn’t need another angry black man, just as his team doesn’t need for him to be suspended for putting his foot through Sergio Garcia’s ass like a wayward goal attempt.
What if? We talked, and it’s okay. Is it okay for Umtiti? As the best center back in the game on form, he has a great many run-ins with opposing players. Physical, verbal, some anger? Probably. Racist insults? We have heard no reports of such things prior to this. And the player himself said nothing, because what is there to say? What is the value for him of reliving the attempt to take his humanity?
Some say, “Well, it’s an attempt to put him off his game, that is why he said it.” The match was essentially over when Garcia had his “moment.” So, no. What does Umtiti do, from that moment forward, besides carry around baggage that he surely wasn’t planning to leave Cornella with, even as in the back of his mind, as it is in the back of the minds of all black folks, he was probably wondering, “What if today is the day?”
Sergio Garcia’s statement means that something happened. The league will now have to react — maybe. If it was in the official’s report, it is now in their face. Football does a lot of things to pretend to care about eradicating racism from the game, from t-shirts to armbands that read “Respect.” But they won’t really do anything significant, nor can they. Racism is learned behavior. People bring it to football matches in the stands, on the pitch, in the locker room. Football can’t fix that, nor is that the job of football.
What IS the job of football is to make racism expensive. Prohibitively expensive. Punishments should be exaggerated, for good reason. Sergio Garcia probably feels better after his admission. How does Samuel Umtiti feel? People take sides, offer theories about what Sergio Garcia might have meant, and whether or not he meant it. Okay.
How does Samuel Umtiti feel? After the match. Right now. In training. Squaring up for a hard challenge in his next match. How does Samuel Umtiti feel? None of us know. We can’t. But if we don’t at least try to imagine it, instead of retreating to corners that make us feel better and less uncomfortable, then what?
The league’s anti-violence commission investigated Pique saying that Espanyol is from Cornella. Which is where their club is located. What will the league do with this?
What does Barça do, as a football club? Issue a statement? Keep in mind this is the same club that decided to go ahead with a match, while truncheons were clanging off the skulls of folks trying to vote. So who knows? Does the club have an obligation to do anything at all? Valid question.
After the match, Pique came out with both barrels. “If you won’t do something about it, I won’t shut up.” Who was that aimed at? The club? The league?
Assuredly, everyone wants this to go away. Far, far, away. Because racism makes people uncomfortable. When a Villarreal supporter threw a banana at Dani Alves, who picked it up and ate it, it became a moment. Social media picked up on it, with Twitter and Instagram posts showing solidarity with Alves. And nothing else happened, really. What next?
Clarence Seedorf has been named as the new coach of Depor. He is the only black coach in La Liga. What do we think will happen on the sidelines? What will be said to him? As coaches are usually in the proximity of the fourth official, it would presumably make slurs and insults more difficult to ignore. Maybe.
Many are saying, “It was a derby. Things get heated in a derby.” Okay. How heated do things get, and what is okay in the context of heat?
Barça dropped points. The team could afford to. It is still nine points up on its second-place rival. Samuel Umtiti lost a bit of humanity. He could NOT afford to. None of us could.