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  • Why Leroux's 'racial slurs' tweet matters, and what we all need to do about it


    So, yeah, this happened...

    "When you chant racial slurs, taunt me and talk about my family don't be mad when I shush you and show pride in what I represent. #america" -- @sydneyleroux, June 3, 2013

    And naturally, I spent a good part of my day getting into social-media interactions with folks on both sides of the border about what happened or didn't happen, the nature of Leroux's in-game and post-game response to the crowd's reaction to her, and so on. And while there are different ways this whole situation can be looked at, depending on where you're coming at it from, let's make one thing absolutely, unequivocally clear.

    The Canadian soccer supporters community does not condone racist abuse or behaviour directed at players or anyone else, regardless of the circumstances. Anybody engaging in this type of behaviour is representing themselves alone, not the Voyageurs or any other group, and should be banned from Canadian supporters sections.

    Now then, to parse through the nuance of a tweet that Leroux probably spent 15 seconds devising and writing, and hasn't thought about since...


    Much of the confusion (and anger, on this side of the border) came from Leroux's usage of the word "chants". That word, to me, suggests a coordinated effort by a large group of fans. And while -- as was pointed out to me by one American fan -- you could call one person yelling the same thing over and over a "chant", in this context, the connotation of Leroux's word choice is clear, whether it was her intention or not.

    That is why I, and some others who've worked extensively to help build the soccer supporters culture in this city and country, instantly jumped in with reactions.

    I'm not naive or deluded enough to think that Canada is free of racists or racism. Like every other jurisdiction on this planet, Canada contains its share of bigots, extremists and all sorts of other morons that make the rest of us look bad by association. And soccer stadia are no different. I don't doubt for a second that the possibility exists that Leroux has encountered racially-tinged abuse from Canadians, either in-person or via social media.

    And I'm also not going to suggest that she should simply laugh it off or ignore it, because she shouldn't. Nobody should have to endure racism, sexism, homophobia or any of the other sorts of closed-minded weapons of the intellectually stunted. So if Leroux, or any player, does encounter treatment of that sort, they're perfectly within their rights to bring it to the attention of their nation's governing body, or whatever other authorities might be in a position to potentially intervene.

    At the same time, it's incumbent upon supporters within Canada -- and supporters of all teams -- to weed out these elements within their ranks, if they exist. To be perfectly clear, though, I was positioned in the first few rows of section 113 at BMO Field on Sunday evening, the area from which the most unsavoury chants of the evening would have originated. And I can say with 100% certainty that I heard no one using language that could be deemed racist.

    Canadian fans sitting elsewhere in the stadium have said the same thing. Some Americans decided to alert me to the fact that Canadian fans were booing Leroux at every touch of the ball, chanting "traitor!" and "Judas!" among other things. But none of these examples constitute racist behaviour, and no one has produced any proof whatsoever of any sort of racist behaviour.

    And come on. The idea that a racist chant could ever catch on at a soccer game in Toronto is beyond laughable. Again, there is no doubt that Toronto contains plenty of individuals who hold less-than-progressive opinions on race relations. But the idea that the proudly multicultural fanbase of a proudly multicultural team would ever tolerate (never mind initiate) a racially-tinged chant at an opponent (no matter who they are) is so fundamentally preposterous that anyone seriously making the assertion is doing nothing but proving their own cluelessness about what Toronto and Canada stand for.

    As one Canadian fan remarked on the Voyageurs' Facebook page: "I would think that someone engaging in racist behaviour would get their asses whooped in our stands."

    He's probably right.

    As it turns out, though, Leroux was never suggesting coordinated chants on Sunday. The US Soccer Federation has come out to clarify that the "racial slurs" Leroux claims to have endured did not occur on Sunday at BMO Field. Thanks to the instantaneous social-media world, though, many have already gotten it in their heads that racist chants did take place that night -- which is not something that even Sydney Leroux is claiming.

    We have yet to receive clarification about what, exactly, she would have been referring to, though Jason de Vos received word that it may have to do with an incident or incidents during the Olympic qualifying tournament held in Vancouver last year. The idea that a racist chant could ever catch on at BC Place is as ridiculous as the idea that it could catch on at BMO Field. But there's the possibility, as there would be in Toronto, that individual morons could have spewed racially-charged at hatred at Leroux.

    If that's the case, here's hoping the individuals are identified and dealt with appropriately.

    The lesson from this story -- which will have completely blown over in 48 hours, such is the nature of the instant-news world -- is simply a reminder that both athletes and supporters' groups have important responsibilities in the fight to eradicate racism from the stands at soccer games.

    Supporters groups must take all available actions to identify and ostracize any within their ranks that would use a sporting event as a pretext to lob racist language at other people. And athletes must exercise caution when making claims of racist abuse, so that resources can be allocated to investigating legitimate cases without unnecessarily tarring the reputations of those who didn't (and wouldn't) engage in such behaviour.

    In the end, this is likely a case of Leroux slightly miswording her tweet, and the hyper-charged social-media environment taking the ball and running with it. There is absolutely no evidence of any coordinated racist behaviour at BMO Field on Sunday (or at BC Place last January), nor is it even remotely likely that any will emerge.

    But if there are any individuals who, ostensibly acting as impassioned Canadian soccer fans, have racially abused Leroux or any other player in any way, be it in-person or online, let me make one thing absolutely clear: You are not one of us. You do not speak for us. And if I'm personally ever in a position to ensure you're punished for that stupidity, I won't hesitate in taking that opportunity.

    I hope and trust that the overwhelming majority of my fellow Canadian supporters feel the same way, no matter what their opinions about Sydney Leroux as a player or person might be.


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