Racism in Philippine Sports: Who’s Got Next?

by: Mickey Ingles (Photo courtesy: ESPN5 and AJ Bolando’s Twitter

Racism reared its ugly face last week when PBA player Arwind Santos taunted African-American import Terrence Jones by imitating a monkey during Game 5 of the Commissioner’s Cup finals. Initially, Santos was unapologetic, even saying that he was just teasing Jones, claiming that it was all part of the heat of the game, and that if the taunt bothered Jones so much, then he was indeed a monkey.

People who chose to defend Santos said the same thing, passing the gesture as simply part of the game.

Asaran lang,” they said.

“Wala namang racism sa Pilipinas,” others said.

 My personal favorite went something like “huwag kayong feeling American. Pilipino tayo.” Ah, #PinoyPride at its lowest.

 A day after the incident, PBA came down on Santos and meted out a three-prong penalty of a P200,000 fine, 100 hours of community service, and mandatory attendance in a seminar on equality.

Some people wanted a harsher penalty such as a match suspension, which would’ve undoubtedly changed the complexion of the championship series between SMB and Talk N’ Text. Others called for an even bigger fine, given that P200,000 would seem paltry compared to the championship bonuses players get—a bonus Santos did get after SMB won the championship the very next game.

Others agreed with the penalty, saying a suspension would’ve been unmerited, given that it was an off-court incident and didn’t affect the result of the game. In a now deleted video on Twitter, PBA Commissioner Marcial had mentioned that Santos’ antics were different from a previous incident where a ballboy was suspended for a racial taunt. How? According to Marcial, the ballboy was actually holding a banana when he did his monkey jig; Santos was not.

Santos has since apologized for his monkey dance. Before the start of SMB’s championship-clinching game six, Santos even approached Jones to apologize. Jones has said that the incident did not and does not change how he views Filipino fans.

To this, people have invoked the classic familiar Filipino sentiment echoed every time something blows up and the perpetrator of the ruckus has apologized: move on.

Reality check though: racism exists in Philippine sports. That’s a fact. Santos’ monkey taunt—which ironically has been directed to Filipinos as well—was not and definitely will not be the last time someone decides to go low. Fans have subjected African student-athletes to similar racial abuse.

So, no, we shouldn’t move on. We only move on and forward when there is systemic change in Philippine sports that recognizes the problem, addresses it head on, and strikes it down with hefty penalties.

From a sports law perspective, we can start by amending the rules and regulations of leagues or associations.

Leagues and associations must include a specific provision that deals specifically with racism or discrimination.  The portions of the PBA Constitution on the Misconduct of Players are silent on the matter. As it currently stands, any racially-charged incident shall fall within the umbrella morality clause that punishes players who act against the best interests of the association. While it’s good and convenient that such a catch-all provision exists because the Commissioner can use it to combat racism and discrimination, it would be a lot better to have a more specific clause or provision that punishes such odious acts and statements.

A “no racism/no discrimination clause” sends a strong message that the league or association considers these acts as extremely bothersome and abhorrent that warrant its own provision. A provision prohibiting any racial and discriminatory acts or statements also acknowledges that such problem does exist—despite the baseless (and often misspelled and poorly worded) assertions of Twitter trolls that racism only exists in America. (Yeh, #pinoypride!)

Said provision should also provide stiff penalties for violations. These penalties shouldn’t even consider whether the antics affected the game or if it was done off-court or if the perpetrator was actually holding a prop of the fruity variety. Racism is racism. It’s an evil in itself. Regardless of when, where, or how it is manifested, it must be penalized harshly.

To hold players even more accountable, said provision should also be included in player contracts, in addition to the usual morality clause. For student-athletes, it can also be included in the athletic scholarship (which is a contract).

For all its faults, FIFA, the governing international body for football, has at least institutionalized its fight against racism in its 2019 Disciplinary Code. It provides an entire section to combat discrimination and provides stiff penalties for racist and discriminatory acts.

Title 2, Chapter 2, Section 13, Paragraph 1 states

“Any person who offends the dignity or integrity of a country, a person or group of people through contemptuous, discriminatory or derogatory words or actions (by any means whatsoever) on account of race, skin colour, ethnic, national or social origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation, language, religion, political opinion, wealth, birth or any other status or any other reason, shall be sanctioned with a suspension lasting at least ten matches or a specific period, or any other appropriate disciplinary measure.”

The section not only seeks to punish racism, but it also extends to stamp out any discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, religion and even political opinion.  And check out the penalties—suspension lasting at least ten matches or a specific period. Sure, FIFA may impose any “other appropriate disciplinary measure,” but the benchmark is suspension.

FIFA even goes on to penalize teams for the racist and discriminatory acts of their fans. Under Paragraph 2, if supporters engage in said acts for the first time, teams can be fined and forced to play games with a limited number of fans in attendance. For repeat offenders, the sanctions can be as harsh as expulsion from a competition and even relegation to a lower division. Racists and homophobes beware.

The message is clear in the black letter of FIFA Disciplinary Rules—racism and discrimination will not be not tolerated. Is it too much to ask that a similar provision be added to the PBA’s Constititution?

The PBA should also look to the NBA to see how it has dealt with racism and discrimination. The Utah Jazz banned a fan after racial slurs were directed at Russell Westbrook last March. When a tape recording of LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling spewing some atrocious remarks came out in 2014, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver outright banned him from the NBA.

A fan banned from an arena. A millionaire-owner banned from owning a team. Note that these were off-court incidents and didn’t affect the outcome of the game. Yet, the punishments were harsh. Rightfully so. Again, contrary to what some may say, these factors do not matter. What matters is that these do not happen again.

It’s time for us to wake up. While this incident happened in the PBA, the lessons have to be applied to other leagues as well. Hopefully, at least one of the top leagues in the country takes the reins and be the first to take a structural and long-lasting stand against racism and discrimination.

So, who will it be—MBPL, UAAP, NCAA, PFL, PVL, PSL? Who’s got next?

Mickey Ingles is the editor-in-chief of Batas Sportiva.








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