Racism has a way of making the beautiful game ugly. If you're looking for a recent example, look no further than Wednesday's Europa League final, and the reaction that Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford received after his side lost to Villarreal in an 11-round PK sequence.
"At least 70 racial slurs on my social accounts counted so far," he reported. "For those working to make me feel any worse than I already do, good luck trying."
Lilian Thuram also knows what it's like to be on the receiving end of racism — and in an interview with Sports Illustrated's Brian Straus released Thursday, the legendary French player pointed to MLS's Black Players for Change as a model that Europe would do well to adopt.
“When I was playing football and there would be a racist incident in the stadium," Thuram recalled, "when I would go back into the changing room, often times what would happen was some of the guys come over, the white guys come over, tap me on the back and say, ‘Sorry about that’ or ‘Don’t worry about it."
“I’m thinking, ‘This has got to change.’ But even when the journalists would say to me, ‘Oh, what do we need to do Lilian? This has got to change. What to do we do?’ My attitude is, ‘Don’t ask me. I’m the person that’s getting this rude remark or whatever it is. I’m the person who’s taking this. Ask the white players. Ask the white players why they’re not saying something about it. Ask the white players what they’re going to do about it.’”
Thuram came to the conclusion that Black Players for Change essentially came to last summer in forming: Those who want change can't wait for other people to do it.
“People who suffered from racism could never wait for anybody to do anything for them,” Thuram told Straus via a translator. “They did it themselves. You have to be really clear you want change. You’ve got to stand up and you’ve got to lead the change.”
Thuram started a foundation bearing his name, committed to fighting racism, sexism, homophobia and discrimination through education. Last month, Thuram and BPC's Justin Morrow (a Cleveland native who plays with Toronto FC) got the opportunity to connect, and in learning about what BPC is doing and achieving, Thuram was moved.
“I’m destabilized by Black Players for Change because I don’t think something like it would be accepted in France today,” Thuram said, noting that there's a culture in France and throughout Europe that discourages Black people from speaking out.
"What Thuram sees in BPC is a proactive and courageous commitment to provide backing and generate strength in numbers," Straus wrote in his article. "BPC, which now has more than 170 members, is evidence that it can be done."
Morrow, also interviewed for the article, noted that Black soccer players from the U.S. are aware of the impact they can make globally.
“We’re very mindful of it," he noted. "We’re a very prideful group and motivated by that fact. We can be the leaders in this space, and we have a unique opportunity as a league because we’re still growing. We have ambition to be one of the top leagues in the world but we’re not yet there, and that gives our current players opportunities, leeway, freedom to step up and do things unapologetically that you don’t see players in Europe doing—at least on this scale that we’re doing it or with the collective mindset and idea that we’re doing it. And so we’ve taken advantage of that.”