Tradition Doesn’t Justify Bigotry, Not in Religion and Not in Soccer

Sports fans tend to be loud, obnoxious, and in your face. I should know; I’m one of them. Because of this, bigotry can often be displayed publicly by a country’s sports fans.

Earlier this week, fans of a Russian soccer team, Zenit St. Petersburg, called for non-white and gay players to be excluded from the team.

The fan club, called Landscrona, released a manifesto saying in part:

“Dark-skinned players are all but forced down Zenit’s throat now, which only brings out a negative reaction”… adding that gay players were “unworthy of our great city.”

While the club is distancing itself from the fan base, this problem extends beyond a single club. Russia is preparing to host soccer’s World Cup in 2018. The last thing it wants is for the world to see black players subjected to monkey chants and bananas thrown at them — things that are happening now.

Zenit’s fans are claiming that they “are not racists and for us the absence of black Zenit players is just an important tradition that underlines the team’s identity and nothing more.”

Ah, the cries of tradition to uphold bigotry. Doesn’t that sound familiar?

Usually when a group of people, be they racist soccer fans or Christian zealots, cries “tradition” as a justification for a behavior, it means they are scared of some great, non-existent threat. We see it when gay couples want marriage equality and when atheists fight for equal space in front of a courthouse during the winter. It seems that some Russian soccer fans, too, are scared of their tradition being taken away from them, with minority soccer players taking over their “pure” sport.

The United States was forced to deal with its racism both on and off the field during the Civil Rights movement. Nat Clifton in the NBA. Jackie Robinson in baseball. Jesse Owens in track and field. These people were some of the first in their sports to break the color barriers and they made a difference in the way many perceived race in the U.S.

There is still prejudice in sports and it’s not always about race, either: Not long ago, there were articles written about Andy Dalton, the Cincinnati Bengals’ quarterback, saying that he couldn’t manage a team because he was a redhead. There had never been any redheaded QBs in the NFL and tradition said this shouldn’t happen!

Jeremy Lin in the NBA constantly has his athleticism doubted because of his Taiwanese heritage.

Hopefully the fans in Russia can get over their racism quickly and appreciate the athletes for the talent they bring to the team. On the field, the only color that should matter is the one on your jersey.

About jkmiami89

Jessica Kirsner is the Development Associate with the Secular Student Alliance. She graduated in the Spring of 2012 from the University of Miami with a BA in biology.

  • The Other Weirdo

    To assume that the race issues in Russia are the same as in the US, and have the same solutions is sort of racist in and of itself.

  • NotTHATguest

    I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

  • Blasphemous_Kansan

    It sounds like the phenomena you’re describing is ethnocentrism, not racism.  Not to say that ethnocentrism and racism are mutually exclusive, but it seems like a stretch to say that the intersection occurs in this article.

  • Rich Wilson

    That’s a very good point.  For one thing the ‘black’ population in Russia is much lower than in the US.  And it’s much more acceptable to be overtly racist in ‘polite company’.  There are things that a lot of Americans will say in the privacy of their own homes, but generally hold back in public or with strangers.  In Russia you will hear those kinds of things openly.  Referring to people with an epithet is taken as a matter of fact.  “That’s just what they are, why would they be upset?”

    As for solutions, I heard that same thing from a young Russian woman living in Canada.  As she put it, “International Women’s Day is the day American women won the right to go into the mines, and Russian women won the right not to go into the mines.”  Sexism there shows up in different ways, and they’ve evolved different ways to deal with it (or not).

  • Aek67

    I am perplexed by the people who seem to think this article is ethnocentric. Even if throwing bananas at black people is more acceptable in Russia than it is here, I don’t see how this negates any of Kirsner’s points. It’s still an example of people using tradition as an excuse to uphold bigotry. It is also notable that the author never claims that the race issues in Russia are identical to those in the U.S., and that she never claims to have any solutions for the issues in Russia. 

  • The Other Weirdo

     I sincerely apologize from the bottom of my least important diode. I failed to completely research the word ‘have’. I have now corrected that mistake. I thank you for bringing it to my attention.

  • The Other Weirdo


    Hopefully the fans in Russia can get over their racism quickly and
    appreciate the athletes for the talent they bring to the team. On the
    field, the only color that should matter is the one on your jersey.

    generally don’t read articles just for what they say, but also for any
    unfortunate implications they may or may not contain. The implication
    here is that the solution to Russian fans’ racism is easy and it can be
    quickly gotten over in time for some games. That is incorrect. When you
    can get the general Russian population to quit using terms like “black
    ass” to refer to blacks(a term that, by the way, sounds far, FAR nastier
    in Russian than it does in English) or Yid to refer to Jews, only then
    can you start worrying about what some fans of a soccer team say or do.

    Suggesting otherwise implies a vast cultural ignorance on the part of the original poster.

    What works in the US of today may not necessarily be the best suggestion in the Russia of today which grew up with different hangups. “Just get over it” simply won’t fly with a population unconvinced that there is anything wrong with them.

  • Jkmiami89

     I did not intend to imply that. I just wanted to point out similarities in the way people justify bigotry with cries of tradition.

  • Jessica Kirsner

     I was not trying to propose any solutions or suggest that the situations were the same. I wanted to point out that people frequently use tradition as a justification of bigotry.

  • Crazy Russian

    Well, if you think about what kind of people make up majority of football fans in the US, it kind of makes sense. Rednecks and jocks with perpetual issues with homosexuality and race. I used to root for Zenit, simply because it’s my hometown team, but the more I look at the way the whole thing is going, the less I want to be associated with them.

  • Crazy Russian

    Hear, hear. I used to read a Russian news web site ( Then I started reading readers’ comments. I stopped wanting to go there shortly after that.

  • The Other Weirdo

     Yes, but it is your assumption that there is a quick and easy solution(ie., “Just get over it”, as implied in your last paragraph) that bothered me. It’s not a matter of a few idiot fans. It’s a matter of an entire culture.

  • The Other Weirdo

     Like I said, I saw some unfortunate implications in your post, and that’s what I responded to.

  • Jessica Kirsner

     I said “Hopefully they can get over it quickly”, which was meant to have no implications that they should “jsut get over it”. I apologize if that was what you took from it.

  • John

    Tradition is a bad excuse for anything. Here is a great quote by G.K. Chesterton about tradition:

    means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the
    democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant
    oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.” 

  • machintelligence

    Even traditionalists usually are not pleased by the argument that “who cares if we got our butts kicked all over the field, we are ethnically pure.” Give them a while, they will see the light.

  • The Other Weirdo

     No apology necessary. I know you weren’t trying to offend anyone, and I certainly wasn’t offended.

  • Alexander

    It is true, that our soccer fans in Russia are racist and homophobic, and it is one of those cases I feel bad for being Russian. In the mean time I don’t think that it has something to do with tradition as you describe it in this case. When you cheer up for a sports team you want to associate yourself with the team, part of it is that you want the players to be devoted to the club and the city this club represents. And there are very few non-white people in Russia. So for those who think of the sports club as a symbol of city-pride, having half of the team consist of players coming from very distant far away does not really make sense. Comparison with Nat Clifton or Jackie Robinson is kind of irrelevant because they were US citizens, born in the States, so opposition for their participation in the sport was purely racist. In Russia, the opposition in this case is primarily  against non-Russians as in citizenship.

  • Anna

    I would never have expected that from Chesterton. I’m guessing Christianity was somehow not on the list of traditions?

  • Bdole

    We should amend the list of logical fallacies to include:

    argumentum ad traditionum (every letter pronounced)
    The rationalization of irrational, obnoxious, and counterproductive behavior by alluding to the prior generations engagement in the same.