Sunday, January 21, 2007

Soccer, Xenophobia, and the Constitution

Apparently, a small town in Georgia has banned soccer from the town athletic fields. According to an article in Sunday’s New York Times, the town's mayor has stated, “There will be nothing but baseball and football down there as long as I am mayor…Those fields weren’t made for soccer.” Now, theoretically, the idea that the fields are incompatible for soccer use could be a valid reason for such a ban. But in Clarkston, Georgia, the real reason is xenophobia.

This case actually reminds me a lot of Romer v. Evans, or Cleburne Living Center. For those who haven’t taken ConLaw yet, in Romer, the Supreme Court struck down an amendment to the Colorado Constitution that banned any sexual orientation anti-discrimination law under rational basis equal protection scrutiny, saying that the law represented nothing but naked animus. In Cleburne, the Court struck down a city’s refusal to allow a group home for those with developmental disabilities, though it would allow any of a number of other kinds of equally “disruptive” uses of the property, on similar grounds. While certainly the loss of ability to play soccer on a specific field seems trivial, in Clarkston, this is part of a larger ill-will towards the increasing refugee, non-white population in the community. There is nothing driving the mayor’s actions but naked animus. A town has no rational reason to allow a field to be used for baseball and football and not for soccer, particularly when there has been no problem in its use for soccer in the past. Further, the town isn't simply stopping a subsidy of soccer-playing to benefit other sports, but just not allowing soccer to be played. There doesn't seem to be any issue that this field is so busy that soccer playing is keeping American footballers on the sidelines. The issue is simply that, according to the town, Soccer is not an “American” sport, as the Mayor makes clear by referring to “the soccer people,” as if they were of a different species. I doubt that anyone’s going to take this case on, as the town can likely allege a pretextual “regulatory” purpose for disallowing soccer.

Luckily, the team’s coach suggests she will pursue other spaces to play. What’s particularly sad, though, is that the soccer team in question seems to be one of the most positive youth development programs for refugees in America that I have ever heard about. The team includes Iraqi, Liberian, Sudanese, and Kosovar youth, amongst others. These kids have gone through an inordinate amount of pain and struggle in their young lives, and now Mayor Swaney has decided to take away a source of joy and positivity in their lives because of his own prejudices and irrational fears. Ironically, that seems quite un-American- much less so than soccer.

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