There is little question that race is a complicated issue in Latin America and there is little question that racism is a problem in football (aka soccer). I do not know the specifics of the accusations against Luis Suarez, the Uruguayan forward for Liverpool. I have heard rumours such as that he called Patrice Evra "negrito", which is a common expression in Uruguay and elsewhere in Latin America.
I have also read that this provides much of the basis for Suarez's defense: that this is not an insult and the issue speaks more to cultural differences than racism. I find this explanation alternately understandable and perplexing. Several years ago, I was having lunch with some friends at their apartment in Brasilia. They are attorneys who are politically center-left, who came from humble beginnings and, I believe like many Brazilians who can trace their lineage many generations back in Brazil, very likely have Afro-Brazilian ancestors.
Yet they called their housekeeper/cook "Neguinha," i.e., "Blackie." They explained that this was common. I was tempted to ask them how many whites were called "Branquelo", i.e., "Whitey" by Afro-Brazilians.
This is one place where Suarez's argument falls apart for me. I have no data to back this up, but I would find it difficult to believe that there are lots of Afro-Uruguayans who refer to whites they know as "Blanquito."
But beyond that, I find this argument compelling:
Also, people are making out that Suarez has an ignorance of how one is supposed to behave in Northern Europe, like he's just come off the boat or something. He hasn't — he spent five years in Holland (which, the last time I looked, is pretty well developed), including a season playing alongside Edgar Davids at Ajax.
Would he speak to Davids that way? Or Clarence Seedorf? Or any black Dutch player? I doubt it somehow, particularly given how annoyed a lot of Holland's black players have been in the past about perceived racial bias, let alone overt comments.
I do not know what Luis Suarez's intent was, if any. I have no interest in getting inside his head. I just wish that this was not an issue for this sport - or for the world.