Futebol star Neymar ejected after brawl; says opposing player called him ‘monkey’
By Marques Travae
When the topic is soccer, to tell you the truth, I am not the biggest fan of the sport that is called futebol/football depending on where you live. Growing up in the ‘hood in a near 90% black city in US, the only time I played soccer was when it was an activity during gym class in the schools I attended. For most African-American males, basketball and (American) football and to a lesser extent, baseball, were our sports. Here in Brazil, futebol remains perhaps as popular among Brazilians as all three of the aforementioned sports rolled into one in the US. So, in Brazil, it’s nearly impossible to escape the sport’s influence.
Whenever I am in the home of my extended family in São Paulo, particularly on weekends, there’s always gonna be a game on. Whenever there’s a Sunday afternoon family lunch and the house is full of people, I sit and watch as the men (and the women) react, scream and protest in front of the television because of a play, one referee call or another. Different sport, same reactions. People in São Paulo have long asked me, “who’s your team?” and I always say that I don’t have one. There are two main reasons for this.
One, although I was a walking sports encyclopedia when I was a child, soccer simply wasn’t a sport that I was into and I didn’t get into as an adult. I hadn’t watched a World Cup match in my life until 2002 and that was after I started studying “all things Brazil”.
Two, for numerous reasons, my life just isn’t consumed by sports as it used to be.
But as this blog is about “analyzing Brazil from the perspective of race”, futebol offers plenty of incidents to break down from this perspective. For people interested in the topic of race, the long admired “boy wonder” Futebol Star Neymar, Jr. is gold mine. Ever since I first heard about the 18-year old Santos superstar in 2010, there were two reasons I became intrigued with him.
One, his fans were trying to convince the coaches of the 2010 Brazilian National Team to call Neymar to the team for that year’s World Cup. And two, in a famous interview that year, Neymar said he wasn’t black. “Oh boy”, I remember thinking. Another Brazilian who doesn’t know he’s black.
Futebol Star Neymar didn’t make that year’s team but later, after signing a huge contract with a European team, he would become perhaps the most recognizable Brazilian in the world. By about 2012 or 2013, the kid’s face was everywhere. If you lived in São Paulo then, and probably any other Brazilian city, you couldn’t miss him. Not only could you see his Barcelona team on TV, he had become the pitch man for numerous consumer products. Billboards and posters bearing his image seemed to be everywhere. Kids were imitating his latest crazy hairstyle, blond hair coloring and all. Well, that is when people weren’t roasting him because of those hairdos. Neymar had become a phenomenon.
Neymar and the issue of race was quite a disappointment for Brazil’s black activists who looked to the young superstar as a possible role model for millions of Brazilians who still didn’t know how racism functioned in the country, a large percentage of whom, like Neymar, also didn’t know that many people saw them as black. For many activists who paid attention to Neymar’s career, he was a new generation Pelé, the “King of futebol” who also played for the Santos team and, also like Neymar, was shockingly silent of the race issue.
And it’s not like the issue of race was invisible in Neymar’s world. There had been a number of incidents involving fans in European and Brazilian soccer stadiums that made you wonder what he must have been thinking at the time. Even if the majority of these incidents involved other black players, you still had to wonder what he thought on the issue.
In recent years, for a number of reasons, particularly after his infamous flopping routines in the 2018 World Cup, (see note one) Neymar’s star began to fall for a number of reasons. There have been issues that seem connected to ego in which he was not considered the top gun on his new French team. There have been accusations of homophobic jokes, then there was the rape allegations made by a Brazilian woman and to top all of that off, not only was Neymar not one of the top three highest paid players in world, he wasn’t even in the top five highest paid Brazilians playing outside of the country.
Recent stories suggest that the star wants to return to Barcelona so badly that he’s willing to take a pay cut. Other reports reveal that the star’s vale has fallen by more than 100 million Euros in recent years. With all the money he’s made in the last decade, I’m certainly not crying for “poor Neymar”, but my, my, how fortunes have changed.
In terms of the race issue, I hadn’t really felt the need to write much about Neymar lately, although there was one incident that made headlines months ago after the murder of the African-American George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In that story from June, popular YouTuber/businessman Felipe Neto criticized Neymar for maintaining his silence with all of the protests motivated by Floyd’s murder by police. Protests took place in the US, Brazil and several other countries around the world.
Hours later, the YouTuber erased the tweet and explained the reason:
“I deleted the tweet about Neymar’s silence after messages from members of the Movimento Negro (black social movement), showing that a white person should not demand a black person position himself on racism issues. In fact, it’s not my role to make this demand on Neymar. I’ll keep trying to help, learning and correcting myself when I make a mistake,” he wrote.
Felipe made other demands of Neymar for not speaking out on humanitarian agendas: “This does not change the fact that I condemn the silence of the player, who is the greatest Brazilian digital influencer in the world, but who silences himself about almost all the humanitarian and social agendas that devastate his country of origin and spread throughout the planet.”
Further explaining his position, Felipe went on:
“However, I understood that demanding a position on agendas that involve racismon Neymar’s part is not up to a white man. I will continue to make demands when the subject is the Amazon, fascism and oppression, things that he has always remained silent on. Let’s move on,” he concluded.
It was an intriguing turn of events to say the least. Activists of the Movimento Negro have long criticized Neymar for his lack of positioning on racial issues, but they still defended the star when a white man criticized him on the same issues. Perhaps knowing that many black Brazilians have had issues even identifying with their blackness, let alone speaking out of racial issues, the movement felt it was necessary to give Neymar the space to develop a black conciousness at his own pace. Meanwhile, they treat the superstar as one of “their own”, which, in this situation, lead them to adopting the idea that only other black people could criticize the athlete on specifically racial issues.
In some ways Neymar did offer somewhat of position on the topic, albeit nothing strong. Some months back, the player showed his support for the Black Out Tuesday movement via his Instagram account and wrote the sentence “Black Lives Matter” next to a black screen along with the hashtag #blackouttuesday”. Again, nothing serious, but for Neymar, it’s still worth mentioning although it’s most def nothing to start calling him Neymar X over.
Now we come to this latest controversy. Futebol fans around the world are all probably well aware of the dust-up Neymar was involved in a little over a week ago. The incident, in reality, had nothing to due with the match, but rather the brawl between opposing players that led to the ejection of five players, including Neymar. Neymar’s team, Paris Saint-Germain, loss to Marseille in Paris by a score of 1-0.
Futebol Star Neymar, Layvin Kurzawa and Leonardo Paredes were the PSG players that were ejected. On Marseille’s team, Jordan Amavi and Dario Benedetto received red-cards and were also ejected. During the confusion, players were seen pushing and kicking at each other, there was also an apparent headbutt. When Neymar got into it with the Marseille player, Álvaro González, he made the accusation that González had uttered a racial slur in his direction, which caused the Brazilian star to approach González, questioning him about what he said.
After confronting González, Neymar took his protest to one of the refs on the field numerous times, saying that he had been called a “mono hijo de puta”, which, in Spanish translates as ‘monkey son of bit**’. Later, video also caught the moment that Neymar gave González a slap to the back of head, which he later claimed was in retaliation to the Marseille player’s racial insult. This act would lead to Neymar’s ejection.
“Racism, no. No racism here,” shouted #10 from the side of the field. The cameras also caught Neymar calling González racist before heading to the locker room.
The exchange between the players would later continue via social networks. González accused Neymar of being a ‘bad loser’ and posted a photo surrounded by teammates, many of whom were black, a common tactic when people are accused of racism. With the photo, González wrote: “There is no place for racism. Running clean with many colleagues and friends daily. Sometimes you have to learn to lose and go to the field. Incredible 3 points today. Onwards, Olympique de Marseille. Thank you family.”
Neymar would respond several times.
“You are not a man to admit your mistake. Losing is part of the sport, now insulting and bringing racism into our lives, no, I don’t agree. I DON’T RESPECT YOU! YOU HAVE NO CHARACTER! Admit what you say, my brother … be a man, ‘dude’! RACIST”, shot back Ney, in response.
Clearly disgusted with the situation, he questioned what the consequences would be for González. “The only regret I have is that I didn’t hit this asshole in the face,” he wrote. Continuing his outrage, he wrote: “VAR (video assistant referee) catching my ‘aggression’ is easy… Now I want to see the image of the racist calling me ‘MONO HIJO DE P*TA’ (monkey son of b*tch)… that I want to see! And? You punish me, I am ejected. What about them? What’s up?” he asked.
Days after the controversy, and considering the González denial that he had racially insulted Neymar, lip-reading experts have confirmed that the Marseille player had indeed uttered the words Neymar accused him of. On Globo sports program, Esporte Espetacular, three professionals, after having watched the video of the confrontation agree that the word “mono”, the infamous “macaco” in Portuguese, was uttered by González. The three experts work for the Instituto Nacional de Educação de Surdos (National Education of the Deaf Institute), with one of them being the son of Colombians with an advanced education in Spanish.
The specialists couldn’t verify what González said before said “mono”, but there was complete agreement that he did in fact say the word “mono”. Spanish channels claim to not have identified the offense by González, but did say that Neymar was caught uttering a homophobic slur against his opponent. One of the experts on the Globo confirmed this as well. Since the controversy, the Marseille team says that González has received death threats over the melee. An uncle of the Marseille player claims that his nephew in fact called Neymar ‘bobo’, which in Spanish means ‘idiot’, whereas in Portuguese, it means ‘silly’.
Neymar, for his part in the confusion was suspended for two games. If González is found to have uttered the racist phrase, he could be suspended for up to ten games.
So, the question now remains, now what? This story was top story for several days in Brazil’s media, and was highly commented on in black Brazilian social network outlets. To me, just based on how Futebol Star Neymar comes across, this won’t be any sort of watershed moment that will lead him to “being down for the cause”. I see a Neymar as an individual who was offended and spoke out for Futebol Star Neymar, not with any sort of solidarity with black Brazilians or black people as a whole. After all, this is same guy who participated in the ridiculous “We are all monkeys” campaign after another incident in Europe several years ago.
Numerous black Brazilians have posted articles detailing their allegiance with Futebol Star Neymar, understanding the journey to racial consciousness that Brazilians go through. But that’s another topic I’ll be covering in upcoming posts.
- That period during the 2018 World Cup saw some of the most comical memes I’ve ever seen. The internet was full Neymar flop memes such as this one.