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These articles were published in the Washington Post by Eli Locke, one of our writers.

Anelka’s Anti-Semitism Puts West Brom in Hot Water

European soccer, specifically domestic leagues within countries like the United Kingdom, Italy and others, are known for their worldliness. For example, English Premier League side West Bromwich Albion has players from the likes of Macedonia, Bulgaria, Sweden, and even the Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, despite the cultural variety throughout the sport, anti-Semitism remains a key problem within soccer, and this has been on display within recent weeks.

On December 28th, 2013, journeyman striker Nicolas Anelka scored his first goal of the game for West Brom. Although this brought joy to the teams’ supporters, his celebration, which was a ‘quenelle’ salute, was highly controversial. Anelka, a black French player who converted to Islam in 2004, initially defended his questionable gesture by saying he was attempting to defend and support his personal friend and famous French comedian Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala, who has used the gesture as an anti-societal and anti-system protest, as Anelka noted.

However, the gesture is also seen as highly anti-Semitic. This is due to the fact that M’bala M’bala has been previously fined and banned from performing due to being a perpetrator of anti-Semitism, according to the French government. Less than a month after the incident, the comedian spoke with Sky Sports and stated that not only does Anelka have his full support, but that the salute had nothing to do with racism whatsoever.

Roger Cukierman (head of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions and vice-president of the World Jewish Congress) weighed in on the issue by stating that the salute is only anti-Semitic when performed at places with Jewish values, although he later followed up that comment with a reaffirmation that it is in fact a clear reverse Nazi salute. However, Cukierman’s position was still used by Anelka to defend his actions via the French footballer’s Facebook page, where Anelka posted a video of Cukierman explaining how he felt about the controversial salute. Although many see it as anti-Semitic, Anelka, Dieudonne, and possibly even Cukierman are on the other side of the fence.

As controversial as the celebration was, the response to it was even more so. The first thing that angered Jews and religious freedom supporting peoples alike was the delayed response to the action by the English Football Association. Much like the National Football League’s Roger Goodell they have the responsibility of suspending or fining players as they see fit for actions they partake in whilst playing.

Finally, on January 21st, 2014, the FA charged Anelka with making a gesture that had been deemed “abusive and/or indecent and/or insulting and/or improper,” according to the FA’s statement and their rulebook. Soon after that, Anelka denied the charge and requested a personal hearing as many expected he would, once again citing that he was not a racist and that the quenelle was simply expressing his anti-establishment/anti-system sentiments. He will attend a personal hearing, and if found guilty will be banned a minimum of five games and might also be fined separately. In recent years, other English Premier League players, namely John Terry and Luis Suarez, have been found guilty of such actions and were suspended accordingly.

As if the delayed response by the club and the FA was not enough, West Brom has been further shrouded in controversy via their sponsor, Zoopla, an English company that tracks housing prices. Zoopla is co-owned by Alex Chesterman, who is Jewish. After not only Anelka’s celebration but also the fact that he played for West Brom in the following week’s fixture, Chesterman announced that Zoopla and West Brom would not be seeking a re-negotiation of their sponsorship contract at the end of the season. Initially, the two sides would have likely sought a one-year extension for the company to appear on the club’s jerseys. However, after the announcement from Zoopla, West Brom will have to search for a new jersey sponsor this offseason. They currently sit 15th in the 20-team league.

Ian Berner, an 11th grader at Yorktown High School, is both a Reform Jew as well as a devout English Premier League follower. Berner believes Anelka “[didn’t] have any bad intentions, but he still needs to be more careful with stuff like that.” Although many players pride themselves on their signature celebrations, Berner believes players who perform such celebrations are completely responsible for their own actions. “If [Anelka] plans on doing a certain celebration it’s his responsibility to be sure it can’t be regarded as an offensive gesture…that can mess with his team’s reputation,” noted Berner.

Anelka is certainly no stranger to controversy. After locker room squabbles between himself and former French national team coach Raymond Domenech during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Anelka was banned for 18 games from the national team by the French FA, only to retire promptly after. In both 2000 and 2012, Anelka became wrapped up in confrontations with coaches at two of his various former club teams.

Furthermore, Anelka is not the only French athlete to be labeled anti-Semitic by using the gesture. According to BBC Sport, fellow soccer players Samir Nasri and Mamadou Sahko, both who are French and now play for English clubs like Anelka, have been in hot water for using the quenelle in pictures they had posted on Twitter. Veteran San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker, who was pictured using the controversial gesture roughly three years ago, fell to the same criticism. All later apologized for their actions and claimed that they were unaware of the anti-Semitic connections with the celebration at the time they were found using it.

The FA and West Brom’s delay in response to the incident appears even worse than it is after the decision in mid-December by the international governing body of soccer, FIFA, to suspend Croatian defender Josip Simunic for ten matches of international play. Why? Simunic incited a fascist chant with fans after Croatia punched their ticket to the 2014 World Cup after defeating Iceland. Although ten matches is a decently large amount, the ban is much more significant because Simunic now cannot represent Croatia in the World Cup because the ten-match ban falls within Croatia’s World Cup games

Much like the equally controversial quenelle, this sparked a debate about the thin line between dated, revolutionary chants or gestures and their anti-Semitic values, as many defended Simunic for simply boasting his Croatian nationalism regardless of the possible anti-Semitism it might represent. And just as Anelka has had controversy follow him throughout his career, Croatian fans have been reprimanded before for scathing racist chants.

What happens next is certainly unpredictable. Most pundits believe Anelka will be charged and suspended, and whether or not West Brom decide to keep him on their roster will largely depend on how lengthy the suspension is. Teams are currently approaching their 24th game of the 38-game season. If Anelka is suspended for a significant period of time, he might be let go by the club to sign other places, namely for teams not in England so he does not have to serve his suspension. Regardless, it is certain Anelka has sparked a grand debate with one simple gesture on a Saturday afternoon that has polarized British soccer itself.

 

What is ‘Shanaban?’

Although the voice is different this time, the video started the same. The logo was pieced together with the same sound effects, and the famed first sentence followed: “Saturday night in Long Island,” yet most fans already know the date and location vary by video.

Every time the NHL’s Player Safety and Hockey Operations department decides to suspend an NHL player for an illegal transgression they release a video replaying the situation in question (usually an illegal check) with a full explanation of why the player is being suspended. Over time, these online videos posted on NHL.com have become notorious both in and outside the NHL community for a variety of reasons.

This practice began when former Stanley Cup-winning player and Hall-of-Famer Brendan Shanahan took over the position of President of Player Safety on June 1, 2011. His predecessor, Colin Campbell, was highly unpopular after a scandal developed in which Campbell reportedly was unhappy with the officiating regarding his son who plays in the NHL. Campbell also gave players suspensions for certain hits while not suspending other players in very similar situations, prompting desire for a replacement due to his inconsistency.

Shanahan, who was formerly Vice President of Hockey and Business development, took the position at a difficult time. This started with a famous hit by tough guy Matt Cooke on Boston Bruins center Marc Savard in 2010 that ended Savard’s career after Cooke deliberately made contact with Savard’s head, whic caused him to be stretchered off with a concussion. Since then, the National Hockey League’s Player Association has been calling for increased transparency on suspensions and stricter player safety regulations. Shanahan has been doing his best to answer the bell and bring clarification to this difficult situation. However, controversy remains over the debate on legal and illegal hits and the safety of players’ heads, much like in the NFL.

The videos have become known as “Shanabans”, named after Shanahan and the predictable manner in which the videos banning players follow. After the NHL logo flashes across the screen, Shanahan usually introduces himself and his position in the league, although he has stopped doing this in the more recent videos.

Next, Shanahan announces the location of the game and the time of the game when the questionable hit happened: “Tuesday night in Philadelphia…at 12:34 of the second period” he notes in an early 2011 video suspending Philadelphia Flyers grinder Jody Shelley for five games for a clearly illegal hit in which Shelley slams defenseless Toronto Maple Leafs forward Darryl Boyce up against the boards.

Then the videos get interesting. Shanahan breaks down each situation differently depending on the following factors: the penalty assessed directly after the play happened, whether or not the player who was hit was injured, and the suspension and fine history of the player who committed the dirty hit. Often, in less serious but still malicious cases that involve things like boarding, kneeing, instigating or charging, a simple explanation is followed by a suspension that usually ranges between two and seven games.

However, this is not always the case. Probably the most striking and memorable example of a ‘Shanaban’ was when Raffi Torres, formerly of the Phoenix Coyotes, was banned a whopping 25 games for an illegal hit on Marian Hossa in a playoff game.  According to Shanahan in the video, the hit was “a violation of 3 NHL rules: interference, charging, and illegal check to the head.” As the replay is shown many times over in the video, which is 4 minutes and 22 seconds long, Shanahan explains exactly how Torres leaves his feet and leaps up during the hit (charging), makes Hossa’s head the principal point of contact (illegal check to the head), and recklessly hits Hossa after he is eligible to be checked in accordance with when he lost possession of the puck (interference).

One recurring instance that pops up in most of the ‘Shanaban’ videos including this one is that the player being hit illegally does not move just prior to or simultaneously with the hit. When this does happen, the player making the check is often not suspended because they were likely not trying to ‘pick the head’ of the other player. However, this was not the case with the Torres incident. Furthermore, Shanahan notes in the video that a serious injury was caused and that Torres has a history of ‘supplemental discipline’ for similar acts, which prompted this highly controversial and lengthy suspension.

Yet, not all players featured in Shanahan’s supplementary discipline videos are suspended. Early in this season, Shanahan released a video over three minutes long explaining why Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson was actually not going to be suspended for a hit on Philadelphia’s Brayden Schenn. In this video, Shanahan goes as far as to completely analyze the Caps’ fore-checking strategies as to prove why Wilson did not excessively seek out Schenn for a big hit from behind, nor commit a boarding penalty worthy of a suspension during this hit. This was one key situation in which Shanahan determined that the player being checked did in fact change his body position simultaneously with the hit (unlike Torres’ hit on Hossa), despite the outcry from Flyers fans about the violent manner in which Schenn was propelled into the boards.

Even though the videos have been running for only a handful of seasons, Shanahan has to deal with vastly different situations between players like Cooke, Shelley, Torres and Wilson, and one of these cases happened just before the break for Olympic hockey. In a game against the New York Islanders, Colorado Avalanche defensemen Erik Johnson, who is representing the American hockey team in Sochi, was assessed a slashing minor initially and later suspended for his transgression against forward Frans Nielsen.

As the video begins, most fans who have seen a majority of these ‘Shanabans’ were likely expecting Johnson to pick the head of Nielsen and slam it against the boards, as players often due and are suspended accordingly. Instead, Johnson unpredictably chokes up on his stick and wildly whams Nielsen’s hand with his stick, breaking Nielsen’s hand in the process. Johnson was suspended two games for this unlikely incident- slashing is rarely suspended at all and tends to be far less serious than boarding or charging.

Just within this season, Shanahan and his department have already had to deal with many sticky situations involving suspensions and fines, with Wilson and Johnson being just two of many possible examples. Regardless, Shanahan and his patented ‘Shanaban’ videos are finally bringing clarity to fans and players, and there is no doubt there will be more of these videos to come in the near future and beyond.

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