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If you love soccer then you’ve heard of Mario Balotelli. He’s under the age of 20, playing on one of the best soccer teams and also one of the brightest budding stars. Despite all that, he has been going through some racial turmoil.

Mario is an Italian/international player, or is he?:

The beauty of sports is that they often force folks to confront racial, social and economic issues head-on. Mario Balotelli, by most people’s assumption, would be a fair-skinned Italian. He’s actually a black Ghanian, born Mario Hurwa, whose parents immigrated to Italy and gave him up to an Italian family. At 19 and already a starter every now and then for one of Europe’s premier clubs, Internazionale, he’s the brightest talent Italy has to offer in his age group. Strong, lightning-quick and standing at 6’2,” he’s a physical force to be reckoned with.”

Last weekend, with Inter embarrassingly down a goal to Cagliari, manager Jose Mourinho threw in Balotelli at half-time to add a third forward to a formation already including Samuel Eto’o and Diego Milito. Though he didn’t score, he was certainly disruptive upfront as Inter reversed the advantage in their favor after the substitution to win 2-1. However, racist chanting by the Cagliari fans against Balotelli marred the win—it wasn’t the first time he’d dealt with similar treatment. Last year, playing a game in Turin against Juventus, opposing supporters jeered at him, “A black Italian does not exist.”

Admittedly, a black man of Italian birth might be extremely rare but regardless, the actions by those in Turin and Cagliari were categorically wrong. Having never been to Italy, I’m not sure how racist it still is there, if it is at all. But in my decade and a half spent playing club soccer on an almost all-black soccer team; choice, brawl-inducing language was usually spewed in our direction when we encountered predominantly Italian teams. And I did see True Romance—though I realize there is a distinction between Sicilians and Italians.

The racism Balotelli encounters may alter his decision as to whether or not he will represent the Italian national team when the time comes to play for them or Ghana. Already an Under-21 international, he notably appeared in the European Championships for the junior squad, scoring a critical goal for Italy against Sweden. Thirteen minutes later, Mario lost his temper and got a red card, showing the characteristic immaturity that has plagued him up to this point. The Azzuri is in desperate need of goal production from their forward line and Balotelli could very well be the answer.

At that point, the entire hopes of a nation will rest on his shoulders. Those fans cursing the color of his skin could very well be forced to support his cause, therein sweeping aside any racist feeling they may harbor, temporarily. Permanence, however, is preferred.

It is ironic and a kick in the nuts that the same people that hollered racist chants will soon be Balotelli’s biggest fans if he chooses to stay with Italy.  SMH

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