Giannis should be #morethananathlete

“Greece is a country of white people”. This is a phrase of Giannis Antetokounmpo in a recent interview, in which he presented an image of his country through his own eyes. Following this interview, a crescendo of racism unfolds. Firstly, Konstantinos Kalemis, an executive of the National Center for Public Administration and until recently coordinator of Refugee Education, characterizes the Greek international basketball player with the most vulgar descriptions on Twitter, just because he expressed his opinion. Then a doctor, called Antonios Darzentas, publishes an article in Athens Voice – a michevious freepress magazine anyway – starting with the well-known “yes, but…”, and ending up launching xenophobic opinions against immigrants, because they “invaded” Greek borders. Last but not least, the well-known former MP Rachel Makri, curses Giannis and even orders him to give his Greek citizenship back, as if he has more responsibility to support his citizenship than other Greeks. Apart from those incidents that went viral, we also read so many other similar reactions on social media.


What exactly is the problem?

First of all, even if we are in 2020 we still have to explain why there is a problem. So, this is the first one. There is also a huge problem, when people describe their compatriots and, in general, other human beings in inhuman terms. There is also a huge problem when people talk seriously about border violations by human beings without realizing that one state’s borders can only be violated by other states’ troops. There is, finally, a huge problem when people feel that another person owes them their citizenship and their rights.

The reactions against Giannis shed light only on a small part of the ugliness, hatred and darkness that are preserved out there. The real problem is general, much bigger than what happened to Giannis himself. If the reactions against Greek Freak are the above, then it is inconceivable to fully realize which might be the reaction against another Giannis from the African community, who lives here in Athens and didn’t become famous, like Antetokounmpo. What would be really the reactions that he encounters on the street, at work, at school, in public services, in his daily life?


What responsibility lies with Giannis?

Giannis owes, not so much to himself, but mainly to that other Giannis and to all those who live, study, work, build families, make friends and create their dreams in Greece. So, Giannis has a responsibility to other members of the African community, because he has the power to represent them within the country using his strong public voice.

Giannis Antetokounmpo chose to respond to those vulgar attacks by uploading photos of him, scoring and smiling, with the caption: “Use your smile to change the world, do not let the world change your smile”. May the brightness of a smile and a little verbal implication be enough to change this world! But the world is not changing that way. It changes with a clear reaction to an unprovoked attack. It changes with specific arguments and by developing the opposite point of view. It changes, above all, with claims and struggles.

Somebody may be in a rush to assume that Giannis as a professional athlete has no reason to be associated with such actions. But let’s not forget that a player of NBA range is more than just an athlete (from the popular hashtag #more_than_an_athlete). This has been proven by other huge NBA names such as LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Bradley Beal, Jaylen Brown, who are actively involved and have raised their voices whenever needed or like Michael Jordan for his great social work. This was, after all, Barack Obama’s urging to Giannis a while ago: to speak more in public, to set himself as an example.

So, this is the exact responsibility of Giannis. To speak and “argue” openly. To analyze publicly the reasons why no one can tolerate such insults. To inspire with his voice young people as well as whoever follows him, in order to claim their position and visibility in the country, where they grew up and they love.


What should be the position of the African community?

It is time for the African community to react collectively. On the one hand, the global movement of “Black Lives Matter” on the occasion of the assassination of George Floyd in the USA, on the other hand, the continuing racist rhetoric against Antetokounmpo and especially the general inequalities and injustices that everybody else experiences in their daily lives, should be an alarm so that these behaviors are not normalized.

The movement started by the “Black Lives Matter” must be continued and strengthened, so as not to be characterized by malicious people as another “trend”. Young people of African descent show to the whole society that even today “they can not breathe” in Greece. A nice initiative in this direction was the video that came out recently, presenting the discussion of 9 Afro-Greeks about what “I can’t breathe” means in the Greek context. Such actions need to be expanded, to grow, to acquire a targeted framework, with specific angles and demands.

Under this particular international momentum, the community of people of African descent and more generally of those with immigrant background,residing in Greece, it is time to take a stand, to become even more active, to act and to react in a coordinated and collective manner.

Because they owe nothing to anyone: neither their dreams, nor their conquests, their residence permits and their citizenship. Why, indeed? After all, it is extremely provocative that the state lets children – who were born, went to school and lived here – to wait 2, 3, 4 or even more years to obtain the Greek identity, while at the same time this state delivers Greek passports to Hollywood celebrities at home, with fast-track procedures.