As we always say, soccer doesn’t really interest us.  But what does interest us is the image of the Basques that is projected to the world through it.  That’s why we do occasionally bring up this sport, but of course, never for the scores, only for its reach.

This is the second time we’re referencing the presence, or lack thereof, of a black player in Athletic Bilbao.  The first time we did so was when Jonas Ramalho was on his way up to becoming a player for the top Basque soccer club.  At the time, we were disappointed at how it seemed most media outlets seemed to be writing without understanding (to put it lightly), and were only out to catch readers’ attention with provocative headlines, even if the article itself was, in many cases, an accumulation of preconceptions and half-truths.

But even so, despite knowing how much buzz is generated when Athletic signs a new player, we were amazed at the tsunami of coverage regarding the first goal scored by Iñaki Williams for Athletic.  This occurred during the away match against Turin in the Round of 32 for the Europa League.

Iñaki Williams’ presence at that Athletic game, and especially his goal, which was the first one scored that night, triggered a media firestorm that highlights, as if it had the tiniest smidge of interest or importance, that the color of the skin of this young Basque man born to parents from Liberia and Ghana is black.  These comments oftentimes also lead to a between-the-lines insinuation that the way this Club selects their players is nothing but the consequence of a racist or xenophobic policy.

We can’t imagine any newspaper in the world highlighting, for example, that an Inuit scored his first goal for a given soccer team.  It is possible to presuppose that, if this hasn’t been the case until now, it’s due to the fact that selection of the US, or Canadian, or any other nation with different ethnicities has a racist policy?

Classifying the fact that a black player scored a goal for Athletic just because he’s black as a historic event is nonsense.  No one highlighted the first goal scored by a left-handed player, or the first player born to Andalusian parents.  Mention was made (again, people writing without really understanding) when the first player from the Northern Basque Country played, as if that somehow meant that the club was breaking some rule.

It’s quite normal for this player to be playing in this match.  It is because Iñaki Williams meets all the requirements laid out for a soccer player to join Athletic.  These are the same conditions laid out by the club’s members, who are also its owners.

We understand that this might be disconcerting to some.  But the color of his skin really should be causing that.  Instead, what should be getting our attention is how this young Basque man has the opportunity to play for a team that many, even if the brightest stars in the soccer firmament paid to, could never hope to, if they’re not Basque.  Zidane or Ronaldo will never be able to wear an Athletic kit in a competition match.  That in an of itself, no doubt, makes each and every one of this team’s players SPECIAL.

A while back, we brought you an article that appeared in some Vietnamese publications that really understood this way of being.  The headline said it all:  Orad por ellos, en la batalla contra el mundo entero (Pray for us in the battle against the whole world)

We admit it.  We’re proud to live in a society where this can happen, and where this young Basque of African descent can be proud to be Basque and African.  It’s a feeling that’s not very different from what we feel when citizens of the US, third-generation Basque descendants, still feel that the roots that join them to their homeland are still alive, all while still being model citizens in their country of birth.

* Finally, we’d like to bring you an commercial we remembered while reading the barrage of articles that, somehow, reflect our perception and sentiments on this topic.  It’s an ad for Mercedes (which we’re not getting paid for, mind) and we like it for the message it transmits, and because one of the protagonists, the black girl, is named Nerea (a Basque name), just like how the protagonist of today’s article, Iñaki, also has a Basque name.

Sky Sports – 20/2/2015 – USA

Inaki Williams becomes first black Athletic Bilbao goalscorer in 117-year history

Inaki Williams became the first black player to score in Athletic Bilbao’s 117-year history after netting against Torino on Thursday night. Williams’ opener came after nine minutes of the 2-2 Europa League round-of-32 first-leg draw for the Basque side, who only field players either native to or trained in the region. Williams was born in Bilbao to a Ghanaian father and a Liberian mother and joined Athletic’s youth system at 16. The 20-year-old was handed his debut by Ernesto Valverde in December and has gone on to make three substitute appearances in La Liga. The “cantera policy” has seen the likes of Fernando Llorente, Andoni Zubizarreta and Iker Muniain progress from the youth ranks to the first team.

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Sports Junkies 101 – 20/2/2015 – USA

Historic: Iñaki Williams, first black man to score for Athletic Bilbao

Iñaki Williams celebrando su gol al Torino
Iñaki Williams celebrando su gol al Torino

After days talking about racism and homophobic remarks from men like Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello, something remarkable and historic occurred yesterday in Torino as the first-ever black man, Iñaki Williams, played and scored for Athletic Bilbao during the Europa League fixture against Torino of the Italian Serie A.

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Publico – 21/2/2015 -Portugal

Iñaki Williams é basco, africano e uma promessa de goleador

São três os clubes que nunca desceram de divisão na liga espanhola. Real Madrid e Barcelona são os dois nomes óbvios desta pequena lista, o outro é um pouco mais inesperado porque não joga, por vontade própria, com as mesmas armas dos seus rivais. Não gasta dezenas de milhões em reforços estrangeiros e tem de recorrer a uma prospecção apurada e criteriosa e ao aproveitamento do que de melhor aparece nos seus escalões de formação. Sempre foi assim no Athletic Bilbau, um clube que até tem origens inglesas e que só aceita jogadores bascos.

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FOX ASIA – 20/2/2015 – USA

Williams first black Bilbao scorer

Williams opener came after nine minutes of the 2-2 Europa League round-of-32 first-leg draw for the Basque side, who only field players either native to or trained in the region. Williams was born in Bilbao to a Ghanaian father and a Liberian mother and joined Athletics youth system at 16.

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ESPN – 20/2/2015  -Brasil

En medio de la polémica del racismo, el equipo 100% Vasco – y blanco – hace primera meta negro en la historia

Iñaki Williams de niño con la camiseta del Athletic
Iñaki Williams de niño con la camiseta del Athletic

Turim, Itália, nove minutos de jogo. Bola pela direita, uma ótima jogada de Viguera e o cruzamento para a área. No meio, um atacante aparece livre de marcação, sozinho, de frente para o gol. O arremate até não sai como o esperado, a bola pega meio na canela, meio no joelho, mas entra perfeitamente, sem chances para o goleiro. Era apenas o primeiro gol do duelo entre Athletic Bilbao e Torino – que acabou em um empate por 2 a 2. Mas na verdade era muito mais que um gol apenas. Era um momento histórico.

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America Top Sports – 20/2/2015 – Africa

INAKI WILLIAMS: PREMIER JOUEUR NOIR À MARQUER POUR L’ATHLETIC BILBAO

Belle histoire jeudi en Europa league pour Inaki Williams. Le jeune attaquant est devenu le premier joueur de couleur à évoluer en Coupe d’Europe avec l’Athletic Bilbao. Et pour rentrer un peu plus dans l’histoire, Williams a inscrit le premier but du match.

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