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At NCAA basketball game

Puerto Rican athlete jeered by racist students

Published Mar 23, 2012 9:59 PM

Angel Rodriguez at March 15
news conference.

The NCAA Division I tournament is the most prestigious in all U.S. college basketball. It begins with 65 teams playing games in each of four regions in the country — West, East, North and South. Two weeks later the Final Four play to see which two teams will seek the national championship.

An incident occurred on March 15, the first day of the tournament, that reflects the charged racist, anti-immigrant atmosphere permeating every sector of capitalist society, including college sports. It happened right at the end of the first-round East regional game played in Pittsburgh between Kansas State University and the University of Southern Mississippi.

When KSU freshman point guard Angel Rodriguez shot free throws with seconds left in the game, he was met with a barrage of racist chants of “Where is your green card?” by members of the USM band. Rodriguez is Puerto Rican. His free throws won the game.

When the president of USM issued an apology to Angel Rodriguez, she actually spelled his name wrong.

Racist anti-immigrant bill

This ugly incident is not an isolated one. It happened the same day that a thoroughly racist, anti-immigrant bill, House Bill 488, was passed by the Mississippi State House. This bill gives local and state police unlimited authority to demand immigration papers from anyone they detain or arrest for being “illegal.” The bill is very similar to one passed in Alabama last year that allows police to stop, frisk, detain and arrest any Brown or Black person at any time without any legal redress. To show his support for the bill, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant stated, “Perhaps it’s boat-rocking time in Mississippi.” (thinkprogress.org, March 2)

But Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes, D-Gulfport, who is African American, said: “If we pass this bill, it will set Mississippi back 60 years.” (Fox News Latino, March 19) Passage of this bill can only deepen racist venom against immigrant workers, as seen by the USM band members’ response to Rodriguez.

Mississippi still flies the stars and bars of the Confederacy in its flag. It is the same state that fought to keep James Meredith from becoming the first African American admitted to the all-white University of Mississippi; he finally won that right in 1962. It is the same state where Civil Rights activists were assaulted, beaten and killed, most notably James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner in 1964. It is also one of the poorest, least unionized states.

Another important issue involved in this scandal is that Puerto Ricans are actually U.S. citizens, with the right to vote in U.S. elections. But the island’s commonwealth status is meant to disguise the reality that Puerto Rico has been an outright colony of the U.S. since the Spanish-American War of 1898. Rick Santorum, who just won the Republican primary in Mississippi, commented that Puerto Rico should only be granted statehood if the population spoke English — ad nauseam.

Its indigenous economy has all but been decimated by U.S. markets. Between the 1930s and 1970s, an estimated one-third of Puerto Rican women were involuntarily sterilized by the U.S. health care system as a birth control method.

The U.S. Navy did irreparable damage to the environment there until its base on the island of Vieques was permanently shut down in 2003 due to protests. The fact that the USM band members assumed that Rodriguez was from Mexico — a main target of the anti-immigration legislation — exposes a deep level of historical backwardness.

The NCAA has tolerated other forms of racism at games, such as racist mascots and chants that degraded Indigenous culture by fans at Florida State and the University of Illinois.