White NBA Hall of Famers like Bird, McHale, Mullin and Stockton were all doing their thing in the 1980s. Griezmann could’ve suited up as any one of them, negating the need to black up and causing no offence in the process
Antoine Griezmann was recently in the news for non-footballing reasons. The Atletico Madrid forward thought it was a good idea to attend an 80s themed party as a black player from the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team. Griezmann, who is white, had his body painted brown from head to toe, with an afro wig topping things off, as he posed for a picture that he shared with his 4.81 million-strong following on Twitter.
The tweet read: “80’s Party” accompanied by a basketball emoji and the sideways laughing face. The said post has since been deleted after the French striker, quite rightly, received backlash on social media. In response to the justified criticism, an ill-informed Griezmann tweeted this weak apology: “I recognise that it’s insensitive on my part. If I offended some people I’m sorry.”
It’s sad to think that the 26-year-old could be so ignorant of the negative history behind blackface. Back in the 1800s, and for well over a hundred years, blackface was used to push the agenda of black inferiority, both racially and socially. White performers in the entertainment industry would use black paint or shoe polish to depict black characters. The said character these white actors would play exemplified the racist stereotypes that have plagued black people for centuries; excessively loud, aggressive and menacing were some of the main characteristics. Surely Griezmann would have been aware of this?
One of the first things that came to mind when I saw Griezmann’s ill-advised choice of outfit was a famous sketch from Chappelle’s Show, the brainchild of American comedic legend Dave Chappelle. In the aptly titled ‘Ask A Black Dude’ segment, fellow American comedian Paul Mooney was tasked with answering selected questions from members of the public. One question enquired why only black guys walk a certain way – with a slight bounce in the step, I guess you could say.
Mooney replied: “Black people walk like that because we have style, we’ve got flavour, we’ve got rhythm. I mean, the black man in America is the most copied man on this planet, bar none. Everybody wanna be a n*gga, but nobody wants to be a n*gga.”
The latter part of Mooney’s quote is where my tweet originated. From music to fashion and just overall style, black culture is quietly admired, blatantly imitated and appropriated and you could even say exploited the world over. Griezmann is responsible for doing all of the aforementioned and a lot worse. With his fancy dress antics, he was doing the most, and that’s never a good look.
His naivety and lack of sensitivity comes as a huge surprise for various reasons. From the ‘Hotline Bling’ goal celebration – given to the world by Canadian rap star Drake in 2016 – to the Atletico man’s various posts on Instagram where it’s clear to see he’s close to many of the black players in the French national team, particularly Alexandre Lacazette and Paul Pogba. You would just expect Griezmann to know better, right?
Philippe Auclair, a well-respected French football writer and broadcaster, was on The Guardian’s Football Weekly podcast the day after Griezmann posted his wacky outfit on Twitter. Auclair had some interesting things to say about the Frenchman’s actions. “In France, five or six years ago, there would’ve been no reaction,” he premised. “People would’ve just said: ‘It’s just a bit of harmless fun.’ He [Griezmann] took a lot of flack.
“It’s very dodgy terrain, but the fact that we have a French national team which is predominantly made up of people of West Indian and African origin, Griezmann is seen, and dare I say promoted as by some people, as being ‘The Frenchman’ because he’s what he looks like [white]. And there are people, not him I hasten to add, but there are people who are using him as a way to highlight the lack of white players in the French national team. So he should be a bit more aware. I don’t believe for one second he’s racist, but probably being a little more sensitive to his environment wouldn’t harm him.”
Like Auclair, I don’t believe Griezmann is racist, but as a black man, I was both offended by his actions and disappointed with his ignorance. I’m also not questioning his love for the game of basketball, the signed jerseys from the likes of Derrick Rose, James Harden and D’Angelo Russell proves he’s a keen follower of the sport, but that doesn’t excuse what he did or give him some kind of black pass.
It’s fine to pay homage to the legends of the game, but this could’ve been done in much better taste. The 1980s was arguably the golden age for the white basketball player. Hall of Famers like Larry Bird, Kevin McHale (both pictured), Chris Mullin and John Stockton were all doing their thing in the NBA during that era. Griezmann could’ve suited up as any one of them, negating the need to black up and causing no offence in the process.