On this Martin Luther King, Jr Day, I find myself pondering 3 different, yet connected thoughts. First is the news, expertly reported on by E Plurbus Loonum, of the saga of Agustín Rossi’s failed signing with Minnesota United FC. The second, another local team, the Timberwolves, blasting social media with images of a credibly accused rapist in an effort to get him elected to the NBA All-Star game.
The third is the fact that sports, while nominally intended to be a distraction from politics is actually one of the most important expressions of our politics. It is one of the few “commons” left where interests cut through multiple ethnic, socio-economic, cultural, and racial groups. How we deal, or don’t deal, with complex issues in this space speaks to where we are as a community and a nation.
Each of these three thoughts display the intersectionality between race, ethnicity, and gender as we try to figure out how to deal with these issues within sport. Soccer is at its root, a diversion, a game. At times I find the act absurd; of watching a match in the pressbox, tweeting out updates and preparing reports before heading down to locker room to hear variations on the same themes of “team victory” if they win and “lapse of concentration” if they lose.
But then there are moments like Collin Martin coming out on Pride Night or the Wonderwall’s response to the possible signing of Rossi that reminds me of how important soccer can be. It’s more than just a game in moments like those, when we see the best, or worst, of humanity.
Some are shocked that it looks like according to E Plurbus Loonum, that it wasn’t the team that killed the deal but rather MLS. EDIT: Now reports are that there was a difference of opinions between people within the team. While the Loons have drawn a very progressive crowd and the team has made their support of the LGBTQ+ community an important part of their outreach, like any organization, they have blind spots.
The front office and team management falls prey to the same problem most front offices do: mostly white, mostly male. And so while other issues might be easy for them to support, the issue of rape and toxic masculinity remains baked into how sports teams are run, even supposedly “progressive” ones like Minnesota United FC.
Remember, Martin didn’t get to play during the Pride Match because Heath was worried he would have been too distracted by the events of the previous 24 hours. Yet players come back from international duty on long flights and are put right back into the starting line up. As supportive as the team might have been of Martin, the fact that wasn’t called on to play shows that there remains gaps and missed opportunities by the team.
It’s not hard to see how the Rossi deal could happen when the team CEO was brought over from the Timberwolves, the team currently pushing to get Derrick Rose a spot at the All-Star game.
These sports teams always have the excuse that the players were never convicted, which isn’t surprising when you consider how the deck is stacked against the accuser in abuse and sexual assault cases.
Everyone makes mistakes, and I hope the team can figure out how to counteract the natural bias that a team run by mostly white males will bring to issues of rape and domestic abuse. Rossi is not the first and will not be the last player Minnesota is interested in that will have issues of violence against women.
How will the team handle it next time? What will the team do when a Minnesota player or front office member is accused of violence or abuse towards women? Hopefully it will be better than what we’ve seen from the Rossi saga so far.
How teams deal with sexual assault and abuse is a reflection of our society. When sport starts to deal with this issue, society will follow.
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