“Classless” was the description that came out of the booth of Sportsnet, the network that broadcast Sunday’s game across Canada. Most reading this post were thankfully spared our neighbor’s coverage of today’s Canada-United States match, wherein the celebration of Sydney Leroux’s 93rd minute goal was labeled “way too American” – the type of sly generalization that’s never used in a positive light.
As the ball reached the back of Erin McLeod’s net, Leroux turned to a crowd that had been booing her since her 74th minute introduction. Reaching to the upper-left corner of her kit, Leroux held up U.S.’s centennial crest, displaying it to the crowd as she shuffled twice in front of a section of fans. Then, turning back toward her teammates, she held a finger to her lips, shushing more than those who had berated her over the preceding 20 minutes. The Surrey-born U.S. international was speaking to fans at 2012 Olympic qualifying in Vancouver, the constant stream of people deriding her on social media, and anybody who’d failed to respect the decision she made two years ago, one that led her to represent the U.S. instead of Canada.
“Shh,” she said told them all, a symbol that’s so over-utilized in world soccer as to become cliché. Andrey Arshavin may be most famous for using it, though at the peak of his powers, he was shushing nobody in particular. For the Russian Prince, the action was so obligatory, it became cute. Nobody labeled him classless, but because Leroux’s use was contextually appropriate, it was somehow, paradoxically uncalled for?
And the lifting of the badge? There aren’t many opportunities for people to do the same in international soccer, but at the club level, we see it often enough to be familiar with the practice. Again, Leroux wasn’t breaking new ground.
(Full celebration can be seen in the animated gifs to the right, which were collected from a search of Tumblr.)
So what does it even mean to call that recycled, easily recognizable celebration “too American?” Can we even remember another American evoking those actions? How can something be “too American” if Leroux might be the first U.S. player to do it?
On the surface, Sportsnet’s remarks lazily play into an insensitive trope – the stereotype of the brash American – but said in the context of a 3-0 loss, as boos rained down on Leroux from a near-capacity BMO crowd, the comment carried none of the levity usually associated with the innocent jibes that often target Americans. It was bitter. It was ugly. It was reactionary and slightly venomous. The missive was a xenophobic response to a source of legitimate frustration, one with which U.S. fans could otherwise empathize.
That’s because the States have their own Sydney Leroux: Giuseppe Rossi, the New Jersey-raised Fiorentina attacker who turned his back on the United States to play for the Italian national team. Despite completely understandable reasons for doing so — a cultural connection from moving to Italy at 12 years old; the relative statures of the U.S. and Italian teams — fans of the U.S. national team have never forgiven the former Clifton resident, often ignorantly described his as traitor. As if soccer allegiances ever provide a reason to use such exaggerated labels.
Sportsnet’s comments are of the same ilk. Ascribing any player’s actions to an entire culture should never be done lightly, especially when done in a context that portrays you as upset a talent that could have played for your home nation didn’t elect to put on your uniform. There’s little Christine Sinclair, Diana Matheson, or Desiree Scott could have been done to be labeled “too Canadian,” and if that label did come out, it probably wouldn’t have been used as a pejorative toward Lauren Sesselmann, a Wisconsin-born defender who started for the Canadians today.
You can understand why the crowd in Toronto would boo a player like Leroux, just as you could see a U.S. crowd directing derision at Rossi. We tolerate far more frivolous reasons for denouncing players, just as we put up with far more crude ways of celebrating touchdowns, home runs, and goals from players who aren’t at conflict with the crowd. If Giuseppe Rossi responded to the barrage of negative feedback he’s received from American fans by lifting the Italian flag after scoring on U.S. soil, would that be classless? And if Sydney Leroux uses the common finger-to-lips pose as a rebuttal to her critiques, that seems neither particularly American nor remarkably crass.
If xenophobic commentary like Sportsnet’s becomes common, would if be fair of me to label it as “too Canadian”? Regardless of the source? Or if Sportsnet’s broadcasters don’t like this response, can they lump similar critiques in with their “too American” missive? Or perhaps we shouldn’t go there at all. Perhaps we should just learn not to begrudge athletes their responses, just as we should learn to respect the decisions of Leroux, Rossi, Sesselman, Owen Hargreaves, Neven Subotic, and Jonathan de Guzman.
Sydney Leroux’s goal at BMO did little to change the dynamic between her and her country of birth. Nor did her celebration. The only thing that changed was the language surrounding the conflict. And unfortunately, it’s changed for the worse.