It’s World Cup time, bring on the articles full of historical stereotypes and racial codes disguised as insightful sports commentary.
For the past two World Cups, the USA team has been routinely decimated by the Ghanaian squads. As a Ghanaian American, I side with my Blackstars, and try to find the nearest Ghanaian restaurant to cheer the boys on. But every four years, I have to brace myself for the predictable slew of American media reporting about Ghana, which usually run along the lines of, WHAT/WHERE IS GHANA? WHY DOES THIS POOR ,TINY COUNTRY KEEP BEATING US?
In the past these types of articles came out after the USA fell to Ghana. This year WSJ decided to one up the ante and publish one even before the first match between the two teams even started. In an article titled, “Who is Ghana, And Why Can’t the US Beat Them?” writer Matthew Futterman makes an unoriginal attempt to try to explain Ghana’s past successes over America to the U.S. crowd. What does he come up with? Because, BIG BLACK STRONG MEN.
When you can’t go for reason, reach for stereotype. According to Team USA, Ghana is “athletic and frightening” and “physical”. Futterman writes of the “haunting image” of Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan “emasculating” the U.S defender Carlos Bocanegra. The writer seems both in awe of and frightened by Gyan’s “burly chest” and “rock hard shoulders”. Michael Essien is a “beast” when healthy. We’ve all heard this before.
Of course, the reason why USA keeps falling to Ghana isn’t because of USA’s lack of strong players. It’s not because of strategy or tactical superiority on the part of the Black Stars and their coaching. The rhetoric lazily relies on the stereotype of scary, beast-like Africans who, in the absence of a formal economy and state of the art training facilities, just rely on sheer athleticism.
Then usually come the articles that obsess over how poor Ghana is. Like this one about how Ghana is rationing electricity in order to allow its citizens to watch tonight’s match.
I’m no soccer expert, but maybe if the U.S.A. sports media spent more time studying the styles and strategies of their Ghanaian opponents rather than focusing on how big and scary their muscles are or how poor their home country is, we’d know why the USA keeps falling to them.
For the record, Go Blackstars!
For an intro to the rich history of the Black Stars, check this superb essay by Kieran Dodds, featuring Kwame Nkrumah, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Amilcar Cabral and Stanley Matthews.