Saturday, September 18, 2010


Late summer, early fall night in Liberty, Missouri. The air is brisk and warm, clouds hang at the edges of the horizon, and at the top of a large hill clustered with beautiful brick buildings, William Jewell’s stadium sits looking down. Trees are scattered like toothpicks across the valley. Light from windows and headlights interject as dusk settles on Missouri. At William Jewell, the stadium flood lights are switching on.

William Jewel

It’s Saturday night. The Lady Cardinal’s have just won big vs. their rival, Park University, and the men's soccer team is now warming up on the field. Kanye West and OutKast fill the air as anticipation buzzes around the stadium, now unusually full instead of the normal one to two hundred fans.

Park University buses students to a game this big, and Jewell’s student body, not to be outdone, has turned up as well. Parked at either side of the single concrete stand, the two student bodies bang drums, and sing the usual soccer chants.

Parents and siblings fill the top section of the stands, dressed in team colors and carrying team scarves.

Jewel vs Park
Park University’s roster and William Jewell’s roster are massively different. William Jewell’s head coach, Chris Cissell, loves finding local Kansas and Missouri talent as well as a few internationals and cultivating their talent.

Park University's coach, Ken Hefner, recruits from all over the world and the majority of their team is composed of players born in Jamaica, France, and Africa.

The racial difference between the two teams in obvious, and those differences, while not expressed on the field, inevitably creep into the crowd and are amplified by cheers and jeers of select parents as a point of pride. One chant in particular, led by the student body, enunciates those differences. It’s cheer that most of you have done. You yelled these words during the World Cup, every time the US National Team takes the field, and when the USA beats Mexico 2-0. Tonight, in Liberty Missouri, this cheer will be sung too.

On the field, the official blows the whistle and the frequency of rough tackles, high arms, and thrown elbows slowly start to increase.

Park University grabs the momentum first. They feel the electricity of playing away in front of a large crowd and draw a penalty kick near the edge of the box within the first 10 minutes. Even thought the keeper goes the right direction Park scores.

After the penalty, it’s all William Jewel. Powered by a small in stature but dynamic midfielder Justin Beck, William Jewell leaps ahead as they tear Park University. Time after time Jewel beats the offside trap through long balls over the top and clever one-two through passes down the wings. They harasses Park, and Park fights back with fire and skill.

After climbing back 1-1, Beck hits a world class full-volley from outside the box that pings into the upper right corner.

As hard tackles fly, the ref handed out yellows, ignores elbows, and some of the parents let their thoughts on the game out.

“Come on reff!” “What are you staring at?”

“That’s not how we play soccer in America!” “We don’t do that in America!”

After scoring the beautiful go ahead goal, as the team on the field celebrates, the fans in the stands reach a cacophony.


The cheer is accompanied by waving American flags and quickly catches on and spreads to the parents at the top of the stand.

As Jewell continues to dominate the chant continues.


The Park Students chant back:
“You are racist” *clap clap, clap clap clap*

“You are racist” *clap clap, clap clap clap*

The cheer stuns the crowd, and I hear people around me asking, “What are they saying? How is that racist?”

What Does An American Look Like?

Park University is based in Missouri. So is William Jewel. Does one team represent American soccer more than another? Both are playing for American schools in the heart of America. The racial and national make up of each team don’t matter. Does America only look like the players on the team you are supporting?

Xenophobia is defined as “A person unduly fearful or contemptuous of that which is foreign, especially of strangers or foreign people” Are only white non-Europeans American? Just because the place of birth is listed as Jamaica, or Ghana, doesn’t mean they aren’t American citizens. Just because your skin color isn’t white doesn’t mean that you are from another country.

Lisa Tatonetti, Assistant Professor of English at Kansas State, identified the feelings going through the crowd as nativism or nationalism. People who are in a group tend to only identify those who look like them as belonging to their national group.

Several of the Park University student-athletes were born in Kansas and Missouri are not white. It didn’t matter. If they did something the crowd didn’t like cries of “We don’t do that in America” still went up and cheers for USA still rung out.

There’s nothing wrong taking pride in being American. There’s nothing wrong with chanting USA when a team is representing our Nation. But when both teams are from America and perceived differences are so extreme, then a cheer of “USA” passes beyond national pride and morphs into something weird and twisted.

Without the national team stamp, cheering for one of two American college team over another simply promotes the superiority of one perceived nationality and one perceived look that that nationality has over another. If you peer deeply enough into the heart of the matter, it promotes one race over another.

Cheer for your school. Cheer for William Jewel. Cheer against Park University. But when you move the line from school pride to National pride and label one group as American and the other as un-American something changes.

When I asked Dr. Darlene Bailey, Jewel’s Director of Athletics, about the situation she replied

“At Jewell, we [the Jewell administration] encourage our students to behave in a sportsmanlike way at all athletic events and wish to be good hosts. There are situations when we have an opportunity to educate our students regarding issues of diversity and inclusion and our staff will visit with students from time to time.

Jewell has a number of international students on campus and several of our student-athletes are international students. The behavior demonstrated by a few of our students and other fans is not acceptable and we will do everything we can to insure that this is addressed and does not happen again. We hope that all students learn from the opportunities they have to be exposed to students from other cultures. Our athletic venues are just one example where this can occur. We remain committed to providing all visitors, visiting teams, fans of soccer, and our community with a respectful venue for sport and an institutional dedication to sportsmanship.”

I’m glad Dr. Bailey recognized and responded to the student behavior rather than issuing a “No comment” statement. It’s important that the institution of William Jewel condones instead of accepts xenophobic fan activities.

Celebrate Soccer
After going up 2-1, William Jewel never looked back and ended up winning convincingly 4-2 thanks to a wonderful team effort in a rough game that the referee has a hard time controlling.

At the end of the game, Jewel celebrated both their win and going 5-0 after a mixed preseason. Park University rose, stood as one, and cheered Jewel on as Jewell walked towards the crowd. The tag-line of the NAIA conference is “Champions of Character,” and both teams showed that spirit.

If only the crowd would do the same.

You can contact Graham at


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chanting "USA" at a sporting event played inside the United States is racist.

Got it.

6:37 PM  
Anonymous stpauljosh said...

wow, anonymous, context has certainly escaped you.

love the write up. interesting thoughts. the enthusiasm for soccer is great. i remember growing up in Nebraska and we'd have maybe 10 people watching us in high school. times have changed.

9:16 PM  
Blogger FC Denver said...

Great article and meaningful analysis. Thanks You.

11:41 PM  
Anonymous wes said...

Anonymous: making douche-y cliff's notes comments since the internet was born.

9:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fantastic analysis and commentary, i even got sympathetic anxiety from the crowd. I hope we can figure this out as a culture.

12:50 AM  
Blogger Gringos at the Gate said...

We should expect more knee-jerk "racist" reactions as the country moves closer to "minority-majority". I saw it a little when Chivas USA played an "all latino" team when they first joined the MLS. Eventurally this will pass, but I'm afraid that is far in the future.

9:20 AM  
Anonymous Spencer said...

Seems to me the impulse on which the crowd was reacting to was not race, but indeed nationality. You've got, as the description says, one team which scours the globe for the majority of it's talent and another which grabs its talent from regional high schools (which I gotta say seems much more in the spirit of Div3 small school athletics). It would appear to me that by chanting "USA, USA" what the fans were trying to reflect was a feeling of "look at you guys, going to France, going to Africa, going to the Caribbean to fill your roster and you're still getting your asses handed to you by a bunch of kids from Kansas". They are very justified in that emotion. Perhaps there are other cheers they could have used to communicate this message but they do not immediately spring to my mind. And by the way, again based on the description given, the Jewell players actually WERE from other countries. I would agree that this represented racism if the Jewell players were, say, Latinos from Texas or African Americans from St. Louis but this was not the case.

1:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know what's a trip is US- born Latino's who don't support Mexico that get even more flack than white USA fans. I've been called a racist cuz I support the US. That's why I joined the LA chapter of the American Outlaws. We throw around the the word "racist" like an insult with no regard for context.

Good write up, Brucio


5:27 PM  
Blogger brucio said...

Just to make sure everyone knows, I didn't write this article, Graham Fox did.

8:02 PM  

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