Media blind on “racist” soccer tweet

Michel Morganella gravely insulted and discriminated against the South Korean people and their football team with his highly offensive comments on Twitter,” said Gian Gilli of the Swiss Olympic delegation. “We condemn his comments, which are in fundamental violation of the IOC’s Olympic charter and Swiss Olympic’s own ethics charter. This is why, in consultation with the Swiss Football Association, we have withdrawn Morganella’s accreditation.”

What did Michel Morganella do to deserve such a reproach? This:

Je les tous Defonce Coréens, allez vous tous Bruler, bande de trisos!

Translated this means that he wants to beat up all South Koreans and that he thinks they are a bunch of retards. “Trisos” is a derogatory French term for someone with Down syndrome. Down syndrome is a genetic abnormality causes by a third copy of the 21st chromosome. Its medical name is Trisomy 21. Hence, “trisos.”

Morganella got disciplined by his federation and removed from the Olympics. Justice is served.

Except…what was that about offending the South Koreans? What about the offense to people with Down syndrome and those who love them?

In this day and age, we generally refrain from using such pejoratives as retard, gay, or, indeed, racial epithets such as the N-word, not out of concern for the object of the insult (in this case the South Koreans) but rather because of the insensitivity toward those from whom the pejorative is derived.

Calling someone who is trying to best you in a negotiation a “cheap Jew” is not an offense against the guy who is buying your car. It is an offense against Jews.

Well, you say, maybe the guy from the Swiss delegation mispoke? Maybe he meant it the other way around and just accidentally referred to the South Koreans being offended when he meant to say the developmentally disabled?

So why did the media report the story as a racist Tweet?

BBC: Switzerland’s Olympic football team has expelled defender Michel Morganella from the tournament for posting racist comments on Twitter.

ESPN: A Swiss soccer player was expelled from the Olympics on Monday for his threatening and racist message on Twitter about South Koreans.

[emphasis added]

The offense here is not against the South Koreans, but rather against all those who have been demeaned and dehumanized by words like retard and “trisos.”

But no one in the media see this. No one in the media thinks to themselves, “Hey, wait a minute. This isn’t racism, it’s a different kind of ‘ism.’ It’s worse. It’s worse because it’s directed at people who don’t have a voice.”

This is why I react the way I do when I see the words “retard” and “retarded” used as synonyms for “stupid” and “uncordinated.” Because the world is blind to the hurt that these words cause to the developmentally disabled and those who love them.

The world is blind. Open your eyes.



  1. I’m Korean and I personally know those with Down Syndrome who I care for greatly, but it really is offensive to say Asians look like they have Down Syndrome. It’s the same thing as stating Asian features might as well be a result of a genetic abnormality. Even in medical textbooks regarding Down Syndrome, their appearance is said to resemble Asians and I question why the authors of these medical textbooks even felt the need to make that comparison. Should zoology textbooks on monkeys and apes be allowed to say their appearance resembles Africans? Of course not. Then why is it considered acceptable to mock Asian features in a medical format?

    I never hear the appearance of Europeans being compared to anything but “angelic” or “godlike”, particularly for Europeans who are blonde with blue eyes. Funny those positive connotations aren’t made for Asians or Africans. We get called mongoloids or monkeys or aliens. It would be nice to put Christmas ornaments of Asian angels or African angels on the Christmas tree, but no, only angels who resemble Europeans with pale skin, blonde hair and blue eyes get made.

  2. Matthew Hennessey says:

    Jay, thanks for this comment. I assumed the soccer player was trying to insult the Korean fans by calling them stupid, and using an ugly word for those with Down syndrome to do it. It did not occur to me that he could have been comparing their appearances. This might be an “insult” that I am unaware of–it is certainly not common in the United States. Medical textbooks may indeed do what you say they do, but I think the main point is the same: it’s only racism if you accept that to suggest a person has Down syndrome is offensive. Morganella might just as easily have called the Korean fans mental midgets or idiots. Would this have been perceived as racist? Or just mean? His casual use of the word “trisos” is what set this furor off and had some media calling him a racist, not his attempt to insult the Korean fans. Koreans have a right to be upset. Morganella may have been motivated by racism. I have no way of knowing that. But calling someone “trisos” or “retard” is only racist if you consider it the lowest possible thing you can say about a person. As you care greatly for someone with Down syndrome, I suspect you are aware that to have Down syndrome is not to be less than human. Again, thanks for the comment.

  3. As a High School teacher, this is a distinction I often attempt, and fail, to emphasize. The pejorative term is offensive not generally because it literally describes the target of your taunt but because it describes a characteristic that is implied to be so foul or pathetic as to be adequately insulting or humiliating when applied to the target. I often get the justification “I would never call someone that who actually IS retarded” (or gay, or whatever), as if that were the proof of the benignity of the word instead of the opposite. I am growing weary of this somewhat childish insistence on being allowed to use these words because the rest of us are over-reacting. It is intellectually lazy instead of being politically bold, and there are bigger battles to be fought and more noble causes to be espoused than the right to be able to call someone a pejorative term that is hurtful to others simply because you can. And that’s all I got to say about that.

  4. Matthew Hennessey says:

    I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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