Sports and politics are always intertwined. So are sports and racism, even at the youth level.
The Boise Idaho Juniors Football Club, a grade school soccer team of nine and 10-year-olds from 10 countries, in January, received a threatening note that used racial epithets against its players. During soccer matches, the team players and their families have regularly dealt with racially charged harassment as well.
That incident hit the social media wire and some sports websites, Nachiket Karnik reported.
“You see these things [done to] adults but [when it’s done] nine to 10-year-old boys, you really have a different reaction,” Karnik told the MSR last week at University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, where he is a first-year MBA graduate student. “It wasn’t just the one letter. They’ve had comments made to them on the sidelines about their players.
“As a person of color, it is important for me to make time; I am involved. When there is an article on race, I read about it and respond to it,” he said. “I got some friends and we talked about it.”
As a result, Karnik and Bridget McDowell, launched Red Card to Racism and contacted the Boise coach. “We asked what would be the best way to support [the team],” Karnik recalled.
They set up a fundraiser to help bring the Boise soccer team to the Twin Cities this summer to play in one of the world’s largest youth soccer tournaments, the Schwan’s USA Cup. The group hopes to raise funds to cover the team’s travel costs and tournament fees. April 8 is the deadline for fundraising, and it’s also the last date of registration for the Cup.
“Our goal is $24,000. The donations are coming [from] social media,” Karnik said. So far the group has raised over $10,000, which will cover the tourney entry fees, Karnik proudly pointed out. “We are trying to get as much as we can, to make sure they have the best possible experience.”
Karnik and McDowell’s group have received help from Minnesota United Football Club, local support groups and youth soccer teams, he announced. Some teams told the organizers that their players have, sadly enough, received similar racial treatment as the Boise Idaho team.
Sports, despite the popular notion, doesn’t always provide a level playing field, especially in soccer, which seems to bring out the worst in people as far as players of color are concerned.
“I feel these issues have been close to my heart for a long time,” Karnik continued. “When something is important to me, I try to make a change, whether that is at work or through student organizations. I try to get involved.”
After kick-starting Red Card to Racism, “I’ve been blown away by the support,” Karnik stated.
The group also wants to provide the players a good experience when they come to town in July: “I want to spend time with them as well and have a group of people supporting them” throughout the tournament, Karnik noted. “We are actually hosting a workshop for them.
“It is a great opportunity for these kids to learn more about what it means to be playing in a multi-cultural environment, to be playing in places where you might encounter people who are abusive, [and] what it means to be playing with people from other countries and cultures.”
Finally, Red Card to Racism is committed to working to end racism in youth sports. “I want to help folk understand that [racists] don’t speak for all of us. There’s more of us who support inclusion,” Karnik concluded.
For more information about Red Card to Racism, visit www.redcardtoracism.com.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.