When not using the pages of the New York Times to ambulance chase J.T. Leroy or mutually masturbate Will Leitch, Warren St. John tackles some meaty subject matter in the Gray Lady, no more so than in his recent profile of a youth soccer team in Clarkston, GA consisting of refugees from Afghanistan, Bosnia, Burundi, Congo, Gambia, Iraq, Kosovo, Liberia, Somalia and Sudan. It’s one heck of a tale, and the club, dubbed The Fugees, have an heroic figure in their 31 year-old, female volunteer coach, Jordanian-American Luma Mufleh (above, center, in red).
Only problem is, in the words of the Guardian’s Steven Wells, St. John might’ve done the town and its mayor (quoted as calling the Fugees, “the soccer people”) a raw deal.
The story seemed to have everything – southern bigotry, culture-war polarisation, racism, xenophobia, heartwarming tales of immigrants overcoming impossible odds in pursuit of the American dream and (like every American sporting story ever filmed) a gutsy, no-nonsense coach who wields a bunch of outcasts and misfits into a winning team (and, in doing do, teaches them valuable lessons not only about themselves, but about America etc).
But what is now in doubt is Mayor Swaney’s role as moustache-twirling anti-soccer villain. In an email response to the article, Swaney says the refugees weren’t banned from Clarkson’s parks and that he’s “very proud of the Fugees’ success”. And if you read further into the article (which, it seems, very few people did), it turns out the “soccer people” quote – so horribly reminiscent of the racist term “mud people” – is taken completely out of context.
Meanwhile, city clerk Tracy Ashby pointed out to The Global Game website that Clarkson “is over 60% African-American. It’s only 19% Caucasian, and the remainder is spread among 52 other nationalities. So it has been a little disappointing to have people call you ‘Adolf’ or, ‘I hope you enjoy your KKK meetings’.”