Sports and entertainment are often at the front of pushing social issues and awareness of such issues to the public's consciousness. While sports especially are sometimes viewed as a sacred ground devoid of politics and "serious" issues, they creep in and make us think about ourselves and our society.
Sports are a reflection of society in many, many ways.
So what does sports say about French society right now?
Several French sports stars including Tony Parker have been publicly chided for giving the "quenelle" salute, a sort of inverted Nazi salute that a controversial French comedian has made popular as a form of anti-establishment gesture. Of course the guy who has made the "quenelle" famous also has been convicted on multiple occasions of running afoul of France's laws against hate speech.
Parker was caught taking a photo with its creator, Deiudonne, a few years ago and it surfaced recently amid growing controversy over the gesture.
After it began making the media rounds, Parker released an apology through the Spurs:
While this gesture has been part of French culture for many years, it was not until recently that I learned of the very negative concerns associated with it. When I was photographed making that gesture three years ago, I thought it was part of a comedy act and did not know that it could be in any way offensive or harmful.
Since I have been aware of the seriousness of the gesture, I will certainly never repeat the gesture and sincerely apologize for any misunderstanding or harm relating to my actions. Hopefully this incident will serve to educate others that we need to be more aware that things that may seem innocuous can actually have a history of hate and hurt.
If there is one thing that can come out of this, it is education and some form of understanding. It has brought this issue to the forefront where it was not once known, at least to an American audience. I would even admit to not knowing what the quenelle was until this story. I then happened to come accross a story from a Holocaust remembrance group that documented several instances of pepole giving the salute in front of Holocaust memorials, concentration camps and Jewish schools and synogogues.
It might have had one meaning to French society that was innocuous at one time, but now it is being clearly used as a Neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic salute. And that cannot be tolerated.
In that sense, it is great that Parker released a statement apologizing for the salute once the photo of him surfaced. He did not realize its meaning and educated himself. You wish more people in society took this approach. Recognizing their own ignorance and learning from it and apologizing.
His coach, Gregg Popovich, also addressed it applauding Parker for apologizing and defending his point guard (h/t Dan McCarney of Spurs Nation):
I talked with Tony. I felt bad for him. Tony doesn’t have an anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim or anti-Christian bone in his body. That gesture was made three years ago and at that time he thought it meant something totally different.
Which it did, to him. It’s morphed into something else over time. But it’s a tribute to his maturity and his leadership to understand it has morphed, as he found out, into something pretty hateful. He realized he needed to say something, that’s it not appropriate.
There’s enough bigotry and racism and hatred in the world already. That thing has been taken too far. When he was informed of that and understood it, he was very quick to denounce it and understand what he had to do. So I was proud of him.
Again, it seems the symbolic gesture started off as one thing and has been transformed into something else (much like the swastika, which is also a Native American symbol that can be seen throughout the American desert).
Still the question needs to be asked: Why are so many French athletes associating themselves with someone who has been convicted for violating hate speech laws and is promoting a symbol that has come to represent anti-Semitism? The number of French athletes, Boris Diaw also has done the symbol in a photo and more recently soccer star Niklas Anelka did it twice after scoring goals as a salute to the Deiudonne (he was publicly chastised by the European Jewish Congress), who are performing this symbol is quite alarming.
Again, maybe it has a meaning that has been completely coopted and now the society is catching up to its new meaning while Deiudonne takes advantage of the sports stars' celebrity to spread his own message. In either case, you have to wonder why so many people are associating with this star. Maybe we do not just get the joke.
Then again, everything Nazism stands for, along with the Holocaust and anti-Semitism and racial and religious hatred, is not something to joke about.