Bogus trends in the NYT: Racism in soccer

A few months ago, Jack Shafer wrote a story

whose subhed ("Spotting a bogus trend story on Page One of today’s New

York Times") could probably appear quite a few times on his Slate columns.

So I’d like to get in on the act as well: It can’t just be Shafer and Radosh

spotting bogus trends. Let the bogus-trendspotters multiply!

Anyway, here’s

the story. The headline is this:

Surge in Racist Mood Raises Concerns on Eve of World Cup

The story is 1,875 words long, which is surely enough space to actually adduce

some evidence that the "surge" of the headline exists. But I’m sure

it will come as no surprise to Shafer that the author, Jere Longman, never quite

gets around to that.

He’s good at following the standard bogus-trend template, though. He starts

off with two anecdotes, showing the problem. Then comes the nut graf:

International soccer has been plagued for years by violence among fans, including

racial incidents. But FIFA, soccer’s Zurich-based world governing body, said

there has been a recent surge in discriminatory behavior toward blacks by

fans and other players, an escalation that has dovetailed with the signing

of more players from Africa and Latin America by elite European clubs.

Did FIFA really talk about "a recent surge in discriminatory behavior"?

Did it, perhaps, characterise the extent of that "surge"? Has there,

in fact, been a marked increase in Latin and African players in European leagues

of late? Longman has no time for such practicalities, since according to the

hard and fast rules of bogus trend stories, the next graf is where he needs

to put his news hook:

This "deplorable trend," as FIFA has called it, now threatens to

embarrass the sport on its grandest stage, the World Cup, which opens June

9 for a monthlong run in 12 cities around Germany. More than 30 billion cumulative

television viewers are expected to watch part of the competition…

I’ll leave it to Radosh to debunk the "30 billion" figure, since

he did such

a good job with the Oscars. But even Longman feels the need to backpedal

on the World Cup aspect of his story just a couple of paragraphs later (although

after the jump to an entirely different section of the newspaper):

Experts and players also said they believed the racist behavior would be

more constrained at the World Cup than it was during play in various domestic

leagues around Europe, because of increased security, the international makeup

of the crowds, higher ticket prices and a sense that spectators would be generally

well behaved on soccer’s grandest stage.

So which is it to be, Jere? A surge of racism which threatens to embarrass

the sport of soccer, or a sense that spectators will be generally well behaved?

Of course, this is a bogus trend story, so we need to get anonymous "experts"

in it, preferably saying the blindingly obvious:

Racist behavior at soccer matches is primarily displayed by men and is fueled

by several factors, according to experts…

But Longman fails the bogus-trend template in that he doesn’t manage to quote

even a single anonymous "expert" in support of his main thesis, that

racism in soccer is getting worse.

He quotes Kurt Wachter of Football Against Racism in Europe saying that "we

will see some things we’re used to seeing". He talks a lot about the extent

of racism in Germany more generally, and what politicians are doing about it.

And of course he mentions the war, with a very weird verb formation:

The German government has intended to confront its Nazi past while preaching

openness and tolerance.

No, I have no idea what this means, or what it has to do with racism in soccer.

In fact, most of second two-thirds of the article seems very confused, to the

extent that one wonders if Longman himself actually believes in his own bogus


The Bundesliga in Germany is one of the world’s top professional soccer leagues,

and has not experienced widespread racism.

So if there’s no widespread racism in the Bundesliga, why is Longman so worried

it will turn up during the World Cup? Remember that earlier on in the article

he was predicting all manner of horrors:

Players and antiracism experts said they expected offensive behavior during

the tournament, including monkey-like chanting; derisive singing; the hanging

of banners that reflect neofascist and racist beliefs; and perhaps the tossing

of bananas or banana peels, all familiar occurrences during matches in Spain,

Italy, eastern Germany and eastern Europe.

But when he gets around to quoting a black member of the German team, he ends

up going back a decade to support his thesis. Even then, the match in question

was not an international match, but a club match about as deep into the former

East Germany as it is possible to get:

Gerald Asamoah, a forward on Germany’s World Cup team and a native of Ghana,

has been recounting an incident in the 1990’s when he was pelted with bananas

before a club match in Cottbus.

In fact, in the entire article, Longman comes up with not a single example

of racist behaviour during an international match, although that doesn’t prevent

him from speculating at length on the sanctions that FIFA may or may not apply

should such behaviour occur this year.

The New York Times, like the rest of the world’s media, is only just starting

on its World Cup coverage, so we have no idea whether this story is a harbinger

of how future reporting is going to turn out. But it’s pretty horrible that

the first World Cup story to hit the front page should be an ill-sourced bogus

trend story about a "surge" in racism which almost certainly doesn’t


There’s one thing we can all take comfort in, however: the New York Times will

never pass up an opportunity to demonstrate that it knows nothing about soccer.

This in the second paragraph:

Then, as he went to throw the ball inbounds, Onyewu said a fan of the opposing

team reached over a barrier and punched him in the face.

As he went to throw the ball inbounds? Sigh. That’s basketball,


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2 Responses to Bogus trends in the NYT: Racism in soccer

  1. 99 says:

    International matches aside, you’d be hard pressed to find the same number of local or minor league sports incidents where fans threw bananas at black players here in America (well, in the past 20 years).

    To do a mini report report report, you do gloss over that the article provides a good half dozen incidents of pretty deplorable behavior for a sporting event held at any venue of any scale in modern day Europe, whether it was 10 years ago or not (I was alive then; I seem to remember that bigoted behavior wasn’t any more acceptable)

    I think it is interesting that the standard of apologia in Europe is typically “well, you know the fringy aspect of Germany still has a bunch of Nazis” with sort of a gallic shrug. We don’t allow excuses like that for, say, Broad Channel or Howard Beach.

    Perhaps the angle on the article should have been how amazing it is that there are any incidents like this happening in football matches at all.

    And it’s really rather unoriginal. Given the abundance of bad behavior by sporting figures, there are plenty of better ways to noodle them (taunting Kidd with ‘wife beater’ chants, throwing car keys on the floor before a basketball game featuring a college player who had be caught riding in a stolen car, etc.).

  2. Felix says:

    99, there’s no doubt that racism is a problem in football. There are lots of organisations devoted to trying to kick it out. My point is that there’s no evidence that racism in football is on the rise, as the headline and the article assert.

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