Sergio Garcia Fried Chicken: Everyone's Overlooking European Sports' Thriving Sub-Culture of Racism
Last Tuesday, Sergio Garcia was at a European Tour awards dinner when he was asked whether he would have Tiger Woods over for dinner during the upcoming U.S. Open. Sergio responded: "We will have him round every night ... We will serve fried chicken." Much has already been written about the comments themselves and whether they are or are not racist. However, few articles noted the larger pattern of racism towards black athletes in Europe, particularly in Spain.
There is a healthy culture of racism toward black athletes in Spain that the American sports media refuses to report on. Felix Ettien, a midfielder from the Ivory Coast, describing how his own club, Levante, treated him on his 1997 arrival in Spain, stated: "Whenever I fell ill, people said it was AIDS or malaria or some other serious disease and nobody would come near us ... We were obliged to use the same plates and cutlery in the club cafeteria, and use the same shirts, socks, shorts and towels in the dressing room." Ettien ultimately became one of the club’s most skilled players and spent most all of his career with Levante. In 2004, Luis Aragones, coach of the Spanish national team, was filmed by a news crew telling Spanish player José Antonio Reyes, "you're better than that negro de mierda," referring to Reyes' Arsenal teammate Thierry Henry. Aragones was later fined a whopping sum of 3,000 Euros for his comments. Samuel Eto'o, a native of Cameroon and one of the top strikers in the world, experienced multiple incidents of racial abuse at the hands of opposing fans while playing for Real Barcelona. In one notable incident in 2005, fans of Real Zaragosa made monkey noises every time Eto'o touched the ball. The next season, the racial taunts were so intense that Eto'o attempted to leave the pitch (field) mid-game in protest. The racial taunting at Spanish stadiums became so intense that Eto'o stopped bringing his family to matches, saying "It is something that has affected me personally ... At this moment in time I prefer my children don't go to football matches. In the stands they have to listen to things that are difficult to explain to a child. It is better they aren't exposed to it."
In the wake of this latest incident, many in the media made the easy (read: lazy) comparison to Fuzzy Zoeller's fried chicken comment in 1997. But analogizing Sergio's comment to Fuzzy’s comment frames the incident as a one-time mistake. One sportswriter, Joe Posnanski, even went so far in his defense of Sergio as to dismiss the comments as follows: "Whatever. Garcia made an off-color remark in his second language when he was trying to be funny in front of a lot of people. Misunderstandings happen all the time." Viewed in a vacuum, Posnanski's position is marginally tenable. When viewed in conjunction with the multitude of other racist incidents that have occurred in Spain, Sergio's comment is absolutely not excusable and is evidence of a strong undercurrent of racism running through Spanish society.