The Trouble with Being Ibra

The trouble with being Zlatan Ibrahimovic is that Italy does not know what to do with him.  Although they are quick to point out his age, he still hasn't been given the same respect as other younger players who haven't even accomplished as much. Most recently, he was accused of being a racist. The Italian media went crazy with the story, though he appeared before the sporting judges and proved he had not made racist comments. Not only have they barely even reported this fact, there have been no apologies, no walk-backs, and most shockingly, no mention of him receiving actual racist abuse himself in Serbia two weeks ago. The rest of the world reported a little bit about that abuse, but not Italy. They moved on to the next thing to criticize him about. And the next. Sure, he speaks his mind. Sure, he speaks about himself in third person. But they are slow to acknowledge his accomplishments and quick to criticize him unfairly. That is the trouble with being Ibra.

Italy love to hate him

Ibrahimovic received the Tapiro d'Oro award from Striscia la Notizia in December for speaking out about EA Sports, FIFPro and image rights in the same week Arturo Vidal cost his team a Champions League match by being sent off after back to back yellows for dissent, leaving his team down a goal and a man for an hour. Inter would go on to lose that match 2-0 and later crash out of Europe altogether by finishing last in their group. In contrast, approximately 300 other players from all of the major leagues joined Ibrahimovic in investigating legal action about their image rights, which is still an ongoing conversation. But hey, give Ibrahimovic the joke award that they give when people make mistakes. He also won La Gazzetta dello Sport's "Legend Award 2020" in December. Was that just an apology trophy? Or did they honor him so they could continue to slander him?

The Italian press "not being racist"

In January, following the Coppa Italia Derby between Inter and Milan, Ibrahimovic was widely condemned in Italy for his "voodoo" comment, something it took everyone else less than 10 minutes to verify was not about racism, but rather based on a news story when Ibrahimovic and Lukaku were both at Manchester United together. Still, the Italian press ran with it. And even the Italian sporting justice system called upon both of them to testify about racism, of which Ibrahimovic was exonerated by providing... you guessed it, news stories. But he was not cleared in the press. No corrections, no apologies, nothing. In that same altercation, Lukaku threatened to kill him at least twice, specifically saying "Imma shoot you in the head," but no charges, no testifying, nothing. The media didn't even address his threats. In many countries, you can be arrested and charged for threatening someone like that. Unless you threaten Ibrahimovic, I guess.

Ibrahimovic did not make it up

In January, when it was publicly announced that Ibrahimovic would be appearing at the Sanremo music festival for all five nights, there was a discussion about scheduling all of the midweek round of games early so that everyone could also watch the festival. This was when Milan were still top of the table, so not only was he not criticized for his commitment, the league was literally talking about scheduling matches around the festival.

Then Milan started losing matches.

Headline news for weeks

Suddenly, it was all the papers could talk about every day. Everyone had to weigh in on how unprofessional it was for him to do this during the season. There was controversy about the club providing training facilities for him in Sanremo. There was "chaos" about his schedule, although Milan hadn't said anything about it. When they did, they revealed that this was a commitment he had made before his contract renewal with the club last summer, which he had told them about before he signed, and that they were fine with it. Even when he got injured on Sunday just ahead of the festival, some claimed it was a fake injury. Still, as a good teammate, he traveled five plus hours each way to be with his team for the midweek match, even though all he could do was watch. He even had to flag down a motorcyclist to take him the last 60 km to get him back to the festival on time. Seems like a man of his word to me.

He went to great lengths to be there for his team, even while injured

Speaking of his words, during recent interviews, Ibrahimovic was asked some questions about the NBA. He admitted that he liked LeBron James, and everything after that has been misinterpreted. Here is the full original quote:

"LeBron is phenomenal at what he's doing, but I don't like when people have some kind of status, they go and do politics at the same time. Do what you're good at. Do the category you do. I play football because I'm the best at playing football. 

"I don't do politics. If I would be a political politician, I would do politics. That is the first mistake people do when they become famous and they become in a certain status. Stay out of it. Just do what you do best because it doesn't look good." (via ESPN from February 26, 2021.)


Even within that article, the journalist twisted Ibrahimovic's words. Ibrahimovic did not say anything about LeBron or anyone else being an activist, fighting against racism or fighting for social justice. He never criticized him for his involvement in LeBron's many charitable projects. Ibrahimovic specifically said politics. LeBron actively campaigned for both Hilary Clinton in 2016 and Joe Biden in 2020, and has publicly criticized Donald Trump. That is politics. For his political endorsements and active criticism of a sitting president, LeBron has drawn the ire of that president, political journalists, and entitled white women, amongst other people. For him, he claims that sports unites, but seems to have troubles separating his sports, social justice, racism, and politics. LeBron's response to Ibrahimovic, the press write-ups, as well as the response of many other ignorant Americans and others lumped everything else together. 

Fighting for social justice against systemic racism. Not politics.

This week, at the Sanremo press conference, Ibrahimovic was asked to clarify. The press are widely reporting that he "doubled down" on his opinion, and they are conveniently leaving out the part that most obviously clarified his point. Here is the whole quote, with that important phrase in bold for those who missed it.

"Racism and politics are two different things. Athletes unite the world, politics divides it. Everyone is welcome in our environment, it doesn't matter where you come from and we are doing everything to bring people together. My message? Athletes should be athletes, politicians should be politicians." (via Eurosport, February 3, 2021.)

LeBron publicly criticizing Trump. Politics.

I am a Lakers fan, and also love LeBron James. But I was disappointed that he and others called Ibrahimovic a hypocrite for having previously spoken out about racism, when racism clearly never had anything to do with Ibrahimovic's opinion about politics, and he clarified that. In fact, LeBron was quoted as saying that he speaks "from a very educated mind, so I'm kind of the wrong guy to actually go at, because I do my homework." (via ESPN, March 2, 2021) Only he definitely did not do his homework, nor did Ibrahimovic "go at him." Ibrahimovic was literally asked a question on Swedish television, and he gave an opinion. LeBron didn't bother to find out where Ibrahimovic was coming from, or even the events of the past two weeks, when Ibrahimovic himself was racially abused. Even more disappointing was the fact that the Italian, American, and other media also got it all wrong, because it is their job to investigate and report. None of them mentioned the racial abuse.

Again, the Italian press was way too busy criticizing Ibrahimovic to note that first, there was the viral video that came out the night of February 18th, when Milan played in Serbia. The following day, Red Star Belgrade issued a public apology to Ibrahimovic and said they would find and punish the person in the video. That was reported worldwide - except in Italy. On February 23rd, UEFA announced that they were investigating the matter. Again, publicized worldwide - except in Italy, the country where the player actually plays his club football. Finally, March 3, Calcio e Finanza reported that UEFA was opening disciplinary proceedings against Red Star Belgrade for the racial abuse, for 'provocative and offensive' chants, and for violating UEFA's protocol by having fans in the stadium. 

Actual racism.

For those who may not know recent history, less than 30 years ago, the Serbian leader of the Red Star Belgrade Ultras formed a paramilitary group that was also mostly Red Star Ultras, and went to Bosnia, amongst other places, and committed genocide amongst Bosnian Muslims. Not just just racism, genocide. Ibrahimovic's father is a Bosnian Muslim. That only 30 years after these horrific events, Red Star Ultras used that racial slur toward Ibrahimovic, while he was in Serbia, is absolutely disgusting. 

But you won't hear anything about that in the Italian media. In fact, throughout his career in Italy, he has been abused because of his race, and no one is ever punished. It is rarely even mentioned in the Italian press, either. They're too busy poking fun of Ibrahimovic's performances on stage at a music festival to tell the truth. I doubt LeBron or any of the many, many ignorant Americans, including "journalists," who are still criticizing Ibrahimovic for sharing an opinion in one interview in Sweden a week ago have any concept of what is actually happening to Ibrahimovic now in regards to his race, his battle against hate, his crusade for social justice. To him. Not to LeBron's "people," while he makes $40 million per year and has a net worth of $500 million and cannot differentiate between sports, politics, racism, and social justice. Or even "do his homework."

Don't worry, Ibrahimovic. The Italian media will not defend you, either

Ibrahimovic is being painted as some entitled rich white guy and being compared to a horrible political journalist who once told LeBron to "Shut up and dribble." No. He is three years older than LeBron, still playing at the highest level, although for only €7 million ($8.35 million) per year, and has a net worth of only $190 million in comparison. Like LeBron, Ibrahimovic had a rough childhood, but he was not taken in and given a normal home, he had to make his own way in life. He has experienced unprovoked racism firsthand his entire life, including just two weeks ago while representing his team. He is playing in a foreign country where people cannot tell a voodoo comment from actual racism, let alone separate politics from death threats from racism. Just because he speaks his mind does not mean that he does not deserve to be treated like other human beings. Someone who speaks of themselves in third person is still a person.

Athlete, not politician. Person.

Italy have no problems celebrating Ibrahimovic when he scores brilliant goals which put Serie A in the spotlight, but refuse to even report when he was the victim of horrific abuse.  They have no problem joining in the slander of his words, an opinion that was meant to unify, not divide. Italy are quick to take credit for anything he does well, but quicker to criticize, often ignorantly, when it will get them more clicks. For me, the worst of it is that they fail to even report, let alone support him when something horrific happens to him. Whatever you think about Ibrahimovic, consider how much is even true, or what you don't know because the media refuses to give him a fair shot. That is the trouble with being Ibra.

This post was inspired by a desire for worldwide social justice, and an end to racism everywhere

Our next match is 
Serie A Week 26
Hellas Verona vs. Milan
Sunday, March 7 • 15:00 CET (9am EST)

The Trouble with Being Ibra The Trouble with Being Ibra Reviewed by Elaine on 11:50 PM Rating: 5
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