Sports in the United States also have become more “event” than game.
The best tickets are now held by corporations and high rollers, few of whom have the same passion as lifelong fans whose loyalty stretches back two, three and even four generations. There also is a relationship between social class and moments of racism, said Rick Eckstein, a sociology professor at Villanova. The higher the social class, the more subtle the expressions of racism tend to be, he said.
In an effort to expand their brand, teams and leagues in the U.S. also have made a concerted effort to make their games more family friendly, said Larry DeGaris, a marketing professor at the University of Indianapolis. Warm-and-fuzzy mascots give away T-shirts during timeouts, and popular music blares from the P.A.
“That’s only beginning to happen in Europe, where soccer attendees tend to skew male and younger relative to U.S. sports,” DeGaris said.
And, of course, the United States has a history of diversity that the rest of the world does not. Almost everyone in the United States can trace his or her roots to another country while many European countries, in particular, are still struggling with the idea of multiculturalism.
“It could be that we’re more mixed here because our country is made up of all types of different people,” said Tab Ramos, the star U.S. midfielder who played five seasons in Spain.
Indeed, most of the countries where racial abuse has been most rampant _ Italy, the Netherlands, Eastern Europe _ are countries where immigration is a central and deeply divisive issue.
“Players of color become all the more a lightning rod for controversy and hatred,” Starn said.
This isn’t to say American sports fans _ or Americans in general _ can congratulate themselves on being enlightened.
Jason Collins is the only active openly gay male player in any of the four major American professional sports, and the veteran NBA center only came out last month. Brittney Griner has said her coach at Baylor encouraged her not to discuss her sexual orientation. San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver said during Super Bowl week he wouldn’t welcome a gay player on his team, and homophobic language doesn’t yet have the charge of racial slurs.
“We have not confronted the gender demons and the sexual orientation demons in our sports culture quite as up front as we have with race,” Eckstein said.
And, Starn said, just because American fans aren’t shouting slurs does not make them better than people in Europe or elsewhere.
“There is a certain smugness among Americans around race and now, I would say, gay and lesbian issues,” Starn said. “But these problems have not gone away. We still live in an America that’s racially divided by neighborhood and friendship and marriages. And we still live in an America where negative attitudes of gay and lesbians are pretty widespread.
“Just because you don’t hear racist chants is not a sign that America has achieved some nirvana of racial equality and tolerance.”