Saturday, November 10, 2007

Does it matter?

I don't think I made a huge deal of it in my article, but I did mention that Ruud Gullit is of African ethnic heritage, and that he is the first such head coach in MLS history.

Some people apparently didn't think that should even be a point. I got a couple of emails that basically told me that information should have been left out.

With regards to his African ethnicity, as you no doubt are aware, he is multi-racial. His real name is Ruud Dil. At the time of his birth in Amsterdam, his father, George, was married. Ironically, his current wife is the niece of Johan Cruyff.
I recall an interesting quote from his days at AC Milan:
"We all decided to speak Italian to each other to ease our transition." (Van Basten and Rijkaard).
While diversity in MLS is important, coaching quality, regardless of skin color or ethnic background, is more integral if the league is to develop and prosper.

Another emailed;

Just wanted to share that he is actually from Suriname (a country in South America and a former Dutch colony) and not of African descent.
yes, he has cool hair (and had awesome dreadlocks back in the 80s), but I think if you ask him, he would probably shy away from claiming himself as the "first African anything" in MLS.
As a fan, I am happy to see many players of African descent play and shine in MLS (e.g. Jozy Altidore (Haiti), Joseph Ingwena (Nigeria), Sharlie Joseph (Grenada). But sometimes it's nice not to think about the whole race thing....I mean america, we are just to hammered by it all over the place. It seems like a non-issue in MLS. we have south american (moreno, conde), asian (alex yee), jewish (jonathan bornstein) and many other ethniticities/cultural groups. it's great because the world of soccer has achieved this level of diversity because the passion for soccer runs in so many communities....but sometimes it's just nice not to make an issue of it.

The thing is, I do think it matters (Also, Suriname, like the American South at one point, had heavy African immigration for labor purposes). Gullit has never shied away from his African roots or his support of black players. There's nothing wrong with noting the league has reached a milestone that could one day become instrumental in attracting more minorities to soccer in the U.S. I'm not saying Gullit is going to change the fact that most African-Americans aren't very interested in soccer all by himself, but yes, I do think his hiring makes at least a slight difference.

What do our readers think?


East River said...

I would like to clear up the idea that most African Americans are not interested in soccer. Though it is true the vast majority are not interested there is a sizeable segment that is and I'm not just referring to African Americans of Carribean or African decent.

Over 30 Black Colleges and Univerities in the US have soccer programs. Around 10 men and 20 women programs across all 3 levels of the NCAA and in the NAIA as well. In fact Howard University has played in the NCAA College Cup final game 3 times, winning twice in the 70's but disqualified from its first title. Alabama A&M won the Division 2 title 2 times in the late 70's and appeared in a third final. If Black colleges were challenging for the national college soccer titles 30 years ago there must have been a significant interest somewhere. An with the 30 on going programs and Blacks playing soccer at non-Black colleges there remains a strong soccer presence within the African American community.

A.C. said...

I'm not trying to imply that they don't play the game here in the U.S. - one glance at rosters in both the USMNT and MLS teams would contradict that.

But yes, your first paragraph has accurate when formal studies have been done on the U.S. population and their interest in soccer (as in how much they watch or follow the sport). The breakdown on population groups shows that African-Americans are the least interested in soccer. There's also anecdotal evidence of a number of pro black athletes playing soccer while they were young (Chad Johnson) and then leaving the sport because they didn't see a future for themselves in the game.

Anonymous said...

I won't comment on blacks playing soccer, as you two have basically said all there is to be said. I'm very happy to have a black man at the helm of an MLS team, with another black as an assistant. As a black man myself, who has loved the game for as long as I can remember, it's great to see a face on the sideline that looks like my own. (in my sunday league i'm compared to him by the way, but I think it's the hair more than anything lol!)

blahblah said...

I stand by my original "thanks for pointing that out" comment of a few posts ago.

I think the emails you highlighted here somewhat focus on my previous "it seems so insignificant at the time" comment when in reality it is significant (i.e. anon 10:19am's post).

Anyway, keep it up. What I can't get my head around is some of the inherent racism in this Galaxy/Chivas rivalry - especially combined with the violence after one of the last Classicos. I read lots and lots of posts and arguments from fans on both sides and the only conclusion I can come up with is its not just a "you're renting our space" thing. Well, I'm not a writer nor have I spent time studying race relations or sports hooliganism. Maybey you guys can figure it out.

East River said...

I didn't mean to sound like I was in conflict with what you were saying AC. My point was that there are plenty of Black Americans who do play soccer its just in the overall scheme of things you can say there is little interest from the Black community. But there is a healthy number and yes people do give up playing but thats not the same as "little interest". That "little interest" has managed to win several national titles. Its the damn peer pressure and perception that there is no future in this and its for white people. I'm curious on how these soccer programs at Black Colleges overcome this in their recruiting. I say all that as graduate of a Black college who didn't even know of their existence until the late 90s.

jason said...

East River's point is interesting. I think about the school I went to as a kid in a small, Southern, town.

We had several very talented athletes who weren't 250 pounds (for the gridiron) or 6 foot 6 inches (for B-ball). They were very handy high school athletes but scholarships in college were few and chances beyond that impossible.

If we'd had soccer, they'd have had the chances at scholarships and even careers that everyone pretended they had with our US sports.

There are still several schools in our cities that just don't have soccer programs, despite the opportunities for play that the game opens up for athletes. (And with fewer concussions and spinal injuries.)

Anonymous said...

I think it's an American thing. In Mexico, for example, we have "Negros" but we don't have "Africanos."

I'm sure it the same in most parts of the world also.

When you pointed it out in your story I went, "oh, that's right. But he's not African-American?"

I think the real significant move will be when Cobi Jones becomes a head coach. Or when Roy Lassiter or the assistant with the fire become head coaches also.

MLS could bring in Pele to coach and no one will be saying, "hey, he's of African decent?" So, why should this be different?

A.C. said...

Here's another email that came in on the topic:

Gullitt, the first MLS coach of
African descent, is the product of a more
fundamentally egalitarian society, Holland. He and
Frank Rijkaard are stellar examples of what such a
society can produce. But Gullitt's drawing attention
to Nelson Mandela is also worthy of remark. The
latter, at that time, was still in prison;
subsequently, he and Gullitt became great friends.
Gullitt is therefore not just a great soccer
personality but a figure of true gravitas, who may
bring to MLS a sense of larger purpose the league may
have struggled to express.

Anonymous said...

If you go back far enough (i.e 1 million years) then I guess every MLS player can be considered of African decent.

Anonymous said...

Not to carp over a small detail or anything, but I think Denis Hamlett should at least be recognized for his brief time at the helm in Chicago between Sarachan and Osorio.

Interim coach? Sure. But an African-American head coach all the same.

A.C. said...

True, and as was noted in my article about the topic, Gullit is the first to be appointed as an official head coach, rather than an interim.

Hamlett has been up for a number of head coaching positions - with expansion around the corner, I'd imagine he'd be one of the next to move into the ranks of those elading teams.