Villains, for a moment | New York Times’ Fugee tale exposes soccer-challenged Southerners to public ire

A Feb 1 Times correction acknowledges the Journal-Constitution as the source—making the slight correction in syntax—but does not clarify that the statement refers to another team. Swaney’s quote, in full, referring to the “Lost Boys” of legend, reads: “There will be nothing but baseball down there as long as I am mayor. I don’t have no beef with nobody. But I do have a problem with these big guys playing soccer because those fields weren’t made for soccer.”

Ashby said that adult use of city facilities brings a different range of problems—evidence exists of alcohol and drug use at the park sites.

Clarkston has been less able or willing to accommodate older players, perhaps tarring with too broad a brush the new residents for whom playing soccer on weekends exists almost as a cultural imperative. Yet the community, in contrast to the “small town” image painted in the Times article, is woven into the Atlanta conurbation and, thus, is heavily urbanized; there is little green space.

The city with its limited resources has focused on youth, on well-established programs such as Little League Baseball and Pee Wee Football, at the risk of seeming inhospitable to adults in the refugee population. These programs, which necessitate heavy parental involvement, also do not fit well with the realities in refugee families, often one-parent households struggling to adjust to the demands of new work, new language and new culture. The challenge is accommodating rapidly shifting demographics without ignoring existing residents.

The New York Times article, however, fails to acknowledge the widespread nature of this dilemma in relation to soccer. We have referred in the past to other communities dealing with a similar refugee influx (see 23 Aug 06). Also recently we received a telling picture from Calhoun, Georgia (see photo above), located in Gordon County in a northwestern, less-developed part of the state.

At first the stern message, NO SOCCER ALLOWED, posted at area playing fields seems damning. Given the manifold increase in the Hispanic population in the 20 years leading up to the 2000 census (Susan Kirkland, “Now Is Time to Meet Hispanic Challenges,” Calhoun Times, 31 Oct 06), one assumes that such messages and their block-capital, monolingual foreboding must be targeted at these newcomers. Hispanic populations have mushroomed in this part of Georgia, attracted in part by the nearby carpet-manufacturing and warehousing businesses in Dalton, the so-called carpet capital of the world. The industry employs more than 30,000.

Again, area recreation officials emphasize youth and organized play and demand reservations to use soccer fields. Gates have been locked and players asked to leave to enforce Calhoun regulations. In reference to such incidents, recreation director Ronnie Reeves told the Calhoun Times last September, “The gates were locked for a reason. We came there and the goals were moved around and the fields were tore up.”

Officials such as Reeves and others across the South and nationwide should not be blamed, however, for what is a widespread shortage of soccer space. The villains in the Fugees’ story remain those in the boys’ homelands who could not resist a turn to ethnic and sectarian violence, and who were the initiators of these refugees’ struggles.

Nevertheless, the New York Times account may have some positive, if limited, effect. If a report this week in Variety proves accurate, $500,000 will be earmarked for a new field as part of a Fugee-inspired movie-and-book deal (Michael Fleming and Dave McNary, “Universal Buys Soccer Story,” Jan 24). Thus, the Fugees might be spared further practice-time anguish, as long as a spot for said field can be found.

But Universal will need someone snarly to play Swaney’s role, given the demands of the story. Mel Gibson, anyone?

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