European’s racist taunts toward soccer star sparks lawsuit

(GIN) — During eight years of professional soccer in Europe, American-born Oguchi Onyewu (Gooch) had grown accustomed to monkey noises and racial remarks made by fans toward Black players.

But racist taunts at a recent match in Belgium finally pushed the former Howard University student to action. In what many consider an overdue reaction to racism in sports, Onyewu is suing his white opponent Jelle Van Damme over inflammatory remarks made on May 21.

In a legal complaint filed in a Belgian court, Onyewu claims Van Damme violated the country’s laws against public insult and criminal defamation.

“I just wanted to make it public,” Onyewu, 27, said in an interview. “People have got to be aware that certain things in sport are not acceptable.”

Onyewu is not seeking monetary damages but simply “moral compensation” – in other words, a public apology.

Van Damme, who is White, has denied making any racial remarks during the match and has said he is not a racist.

Said Onyewu’s lawyer: “You have players of African origin who are regularly pushed by opponents with words to provoke or unsettle them. Most don’t have the professional status to come in the open and say, ‘I’ve had enough of that.’ Oguchi is a big guy, mentally and physically. He’s well established. With this action, he is saying, ‘If I don’t do it, who is going to do it?’ ”

July 2, 2009
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