Amid racist criticism and abuse, Vinicius Jr. and Brazilian stars respond with dances and glee


Vinicius Jr dances with Rodrygo, his successor Brazil and Real Madrid teammates, after Rodrygo scored Real’s first goal against Atletico Madrid on Sunday. (Photo by David S Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)

Vinicius Jr. has embraced pressure and criticism ever since he joined Real Madrid as a teenager.

He danced with the ball at his feet even as external doubts and internal frustration grew. He danced for joy, especially when goals and assists started to flow. And there’s a segment of Spaniards – an overly serious, aged and mostly white segment – who have fretted at his continued good fortune.

Pedro Bravo, a top Spanish football agent, almost represented this segment on a popular TV show last week, setting off a firestorm that raged into the weekend.

“Vinicius will have to respect the opponents” said Bravo, after several translations. “If you want to dance, go to the Sambadrome in Brazil. In Spain you have to respect rivals and stop playing the monkey.”

For Vinicius and others, the undertones were obvious. “Xenophobia and racism,” Vini said, are hurtful and nothing new. In a video posted to social media on Friday night, Vini’s response was eloquent and stern.

For the next 48 hours, on football pitches across Europe, he and other Brazilian stars responded exactly as Vini promised: with joy and with dancing.

Vini Jr.: “Baile donde quieras”

Bravo has “sincerely” apologized and tweeted that his “intent was not to offend anyone”. Spaniard after Spaniard pointed out that “hacer el mono” play the monkey is a Spanish idiom roughly equivalent to fooling around. However, Vini and countless black men had seen this “conspiracy” before.

“I became a victim of xenophobia and racism in a single statement,” the 22-year-old Brazilian winger said as clearly as possible in his video. “But none of this started yesterday.

“A few weeks ago they started criminalizing my dances,” he continued. “Dances that are not mine. They are from Ronaldinho, Neymar, [Lucas] paqueta, [Antoine] Griezmann, João Felix, Matheus Cunha. They are funk artists, Brazilians sambists, by reggaeton artists and by black Americans. They are dances to celebrate the cultural diversity of the world.”

He formulated what he believes was the reason for the criticism that “Happiness interferes [people]; the luck of a black Brazilian victorious in Europe bothers them much more.”

He took note of the apology, “but I repeat it to you, racist: I will not stop dancing,” he vowed at the end of his two-minute video. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s at the Sambadrome, the Bernabeu or wherever it may be.”

And on Sunday he danced at Atletico Madrid’s Estadio Metropolitano.

He danced with his Real Madrid Brazilian team-mate Rodrygo after the 21-year-old scored a brilliant goal to put Real ahead of Atleti.

He danced into the penalty area and shot a shot off the post for the second real. He hopped around the field to celebrate with Federico Valverde, who scored the goal.

And he tweeted Rodrygo after the 2-1 win: “Dance wherever you want.”

La Liga, the Spanish football federation, is silent

In Sunday’s Metropolitano, the scale of the Spanish problem was revealed in broad daylight. There were no excuses, no misinterpretations as thousands of Atletico Madrid fans proudly chanted: “Eres un mono, Vinicius, eres un mono!”

“You are a monkey, Vinicius, you are a monkey!”

Eventually, dozens of videos emerged inside and outside the stadium.

The authorities have to solve the social problem that manifests itself in football. Responsibility should lie with La Liga and the Spanish Football Federation, who could impose sanctions. Hours after Sunday’s game, they had not even publicly acknowledged widespread evidence of racist chanting and verbal abuse. That and much more has to change.

But Vini can’t and shouldn’t have to change it. All he can do is doggedly maintain his joy. He was encouraged to do so by his fellow Brazilians after Bravo’s comments hit him.

“Dribble, dance and be you,” Neymar told him in an Instagram post.

Gabriel Jesus, another black Brazilian star, scored for Arsenal on Sunday morning and danced immediately afterwards. “The party was for my guy Vinicius Jr,” he said.

Even Pelé, Brazil’s most famous son, spoke up and offered his support. “Football is joy. It’s a dance. It’s a real party,” he said wrote on Twitter. “While racism still exists, we won’t let that stop us from continuing to smile.”

That’s what Vinicius did on Sunday. “We keep dancing!” he wrote in response to one of the thousands of messages of support from Brazil.

When Neymar told him to do just that, he quoted and wrote the tweet: “Always!”

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