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Indeed, most of the countries where racial abuse has been most rampant — Italy, the Netherlands, Eastern Europe — are countries where immigration is a central and deeply divisive issue.
"Players of color become all the more a lightning rod for controversy and hatred," Starn said.
This isn’t to say American sports fans — or Americans in general — can congratulate themselves on being enlightened.
Jason Collins is the only active openly gay male player in any of the four major American professional sports, and the veteran NBA center only came out last month. Brittney Griner has said her coach at Baylor encouraged her not to discuss her sexual orientation. San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver said during Super Bowl week he wouldn’t welcome a gay player on his team, and homophobic language doesn’t yet have the charge of racial slurs.
"We have not confronted the gender demons and the sexual orientation demons in our sports culture quite as up front as we have with race," Eckstein said.
And, Starn said, just because American fans aren’t shouting slurs does not make them better than people in Europe or elsewhere.
"There is a certain smugness among Americans around race and now, I would say, gay and lesbian issues," Starn said. "But these problems have not gone away. We still live in an America that’s racially divided by neighborhood and friendship and marriages. And we still live in an America where negative attitudes of gay and lesbians are pretty widespread.
"Just because you don’t hear racist chants is not a sign that America has achieved some nirvana of racial equality and tolerance."
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