The Italians may have lost in the recent European Soccer Championships, but they did much better than anyone expected. The most celebrated (and controversial) player for the Italian National Team was Mario Balotelli. He’s the one who scored 2 goals to propel Italy to victory over heavily favored Germany. Balotelli was born in Sicily but speaks Italian with a broad northern accent. The big surprise, however, is this: he is black, born of Ghanaian immigrants, but raised by an Italian adoptive family . A story today on NPR talks about how the prominence of Balotelli is changing what it means to be Italian. As with black players on other European teams, Balotelli has seen a lot of fan abuse and prejudice. But the victory over Germany may change some opinions.
The photo above, with his mother, may contribute as well to a changed view: “As the triumphant striker approached the stands, he gave this championship its iconic photo off the pitch — the 6-foot-2-inch black Italian Mario hugging his petite white Italian mother, Sylvia. The sight of his mother’s hand caressing the Mohawk-topped head sent a powerful message in a society where la mamma still plays a crucial role and where immigrants are most often treated as second-class. And when Balotelli ripped off his T-shirt, proudly showing off his statuesque physique, it was as if to say, ‘I’m black, I’m Italian and I am here to stay'” (NPR). Interestingly, something similar has happened in Germany with the Turkish-German soccer star Mesut Özil. Are these echoes of Jackie Robinson in American baseball history?