However you’d like to refer to the game, be it soccer, football, or fútbol there’s only one thing you need to know. I love everything about it. I treasure those moments when new acquaintances question me about my love for soccer so that I can quote legendary English soccer coach Bill Shankly who said of the game “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I’m very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” Sunderland A.F.C., Portland Timbers and the Chicago Fire these are names of the teams that I support, my friends say worship and they are right.
While everyone else in the world is familiar with the game of soccer, as it is known here in the United States, it’s still somewhat of a stranger to the ordinary American. I’ve always found that fascinating considering, that there’s no other game in the world that resembles the highest of American values. Like America, soccer values both personal and group responsibility. From the fans in the stadium to the players in the field, soccer casts a wide net seeking to honor everyone’s participation equally. It is also a vision of a future America where ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and nationality are no longer your defining identity. As stated in soccer stadiums around the United States “the only color that matters is the colors of your team”. The Chicago Fire are a shining example of this statement, well at least they were.
While many soccer clubs around the world must work vigilantly to keep racism outside of their stadiums, the Chicago Fire’s origins begin with the ideal of building a club that represented the multi-ethnic mix that is the Chicago. From Polish, to Mexican, to Czech, to Irish; the Chicago Fire’s field and stadium is made up of what it means to be American. We celebrate it, we honor it and we used that strength to build one of the strongest clubs in the United States (with one of the loudest support sections). Now that tradition is under attack. Not from outside forces, but from inside the club itself.
Fans of the Chicago Fire last week announced to management that they were concerned about the harassment of Latino fans by security contracted by the Chicago Fire. According to the Chicago Tribune, for over five years Latino fans have faced increased harassment that has now risen to the level of physical assaults, racial slurs and intimidation. In the spirit of group responsibility non-Latino fans, including Polish immigrants and Irish-Americans, came together to meet with Chicago Fire management to seek solutions to the problem. Sadly, instead of being greeted with concern the Chicago Fire management showed a lack of leadership by responding with a series of punitive measures aimed at the fans themselves.
While disappointed by the management of the Chicago Fire, fans remained undeterred and on Saturday, August 16, 2008 protested the harassment of Latino fans at Toyota Park. In one of the most powerful displays of solidarity to ever take place in a United States sports stadium thousands of supporters of the Chicago Fire remained silent the first half of the game to protest racism. Banners were unfurled condemning racism and when those were confiscated by Chicago Fire management, small cardboard signs appeared in their place. For 45 minutes fans stood side by side both against bigotry, for each other, and to redeem the soul of the Chicago Fire.
While the players may have lost the game that evening, those of us in the stadium won something much more important for our club. We won the right to believe in each other, the club we love dearly, and the right to dream that our Chicago Fire should be the example of the American we want to live in.