*Professional athletes are taught to ignore trash-talking from the stands, but sometimes it can be overwhelming, especially when insensitive comments are made about a player’s family or appearance.
A flagrant example of heckling taken entirely too far occurred during a recent soccer match in Belgrade, Serbia, where a player of African descent was forced to endure an unrelenting series of deplorable chants and viscous jeering aimed at the color of his skin.
Partizan Belgrade’s Brazilian player Everton Luiz, left the field during a Serbian championship match between Rad and Partizan. Racist taunting for 90 straight minutes reduced the footballer to tears as he exited the field. This incident punctuates the yearslong problem of racism in the world’s most popular sport.
Specifically, Luiz, a Brazilian born midfielder who plays for Partizan in Serbia’s SuperLiga local city league, endured monkey noises each time he fielded the ball during the game against league rivals, Rad. When fans showed him a racially insulting banner, he returned their gesture with a middle finger, according to the Daily Mail. The Rad fans became enraged and the team’s players began to confront him. After that, a brawl broke out and police were forced to move in as Luiz left, wiping away tears.
“I took 90 minutes of racist abuse and other insults from the terraces,” Luiz said in a statement after the game. “Thereafter I found myself in a cauldron of emotionless individuals who charged at me when they should have protected me. I want to forget this, refocus on football and urge everyone to say ‘No’ to racism.”
Partizan’s coach Marko Nikolic blamed Luiz, in part, for what happened. “Everton should not have reacted but something provoked his outburst, didn’t it,” he said. “Both sides in the incident should be punished. These things happen in football but it is now up to the authorities to sanction the offenders. It’s a return to the reality of Serbian football.”
Nikolic was fired last year from Olimpija Ljubljana after he called Nigerian player Blessing Eleke a “Black idiot” after celebrating a goal.
The Serbian Football Association suspended Rad’s stadium in Belgrade as a result of what happened. This is the latest in a long string of racist incidents against Black players connected to soccer in Serbia. Rad fans in particular have been known for ultra-right extremist outbursts.
“It is an experience that will never leave me, and to this day it is a source of sadness and anger that during an international football match, played in the 21st century, I was the victim of racist chanting from Serbia supporters,” Luiz told the U.K. Mirror.