In a world where it seems that everyone is on the prowl to be offended it is good to see that there are some who, when given the opportunity, follow the path that brings reconciliation rather than conflict. There is no denying that this World Cup has been rife with grievances - both real and manufactured - and attempts to dampen the flames have been few and far between, but one young American decided to throw water rather than lighter fluid on one of those fires.
“First of all you say you support the Iranian people, but you’re pronouncing our country’s name wrong - our country is named Iran (Ee-raan) not Iran (Eye-ran). Please, once and for all, let’s get this clear. Second, are you ok to be representing a country that has so much discrimination against Black people in its own borders?”
Thus began the questioning by a reporter from the Iranian state-run news network Press TV (comparable to the BBC in England). The fact that the question was addressed to Tyler Adams, the captain of the U.S. National Soccer Team, on the eve of the World Cup match between the U.S. and Iran made it look like its purpose was to rattle the 23-year old and score political points back home.
Adams, who is the youngest captain of any of the 32 nations competing in this year’s finals, began in a way that, considering the well-earned American reputation for condescension towards other cultures - especially those in Western Asia, probably made the reporter wish he had not been so incendiary in his questioning.
“My apologies on the mispronunciation of your country. That being said, there’s discrimination everywhere you go. One thing that I’ve learned - especially from living abroad [Adams plays his football with Leeds United in the Premier League, and before that with RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga] in the past years and having to fit in in different cultures and kind of assimilate into different cultures - is that in the U.S. we’re continuing to make progress every single day.”
At this point it could be claimed that Adams is simply offering the reporter a scoop of vanilla ice cream - palatable, bland, nothing special, but then he continues:
“For me I grew up in a white family with obviously an African-American heritage and background as well so I had a little bit of different cultures and I was very easily able to assimilate in different cultures. Not everyone has that ease and ability to do that and obviously it takes longer to understand.”
Not only is Adams living proof of the progress that he proposes is being made in America, but one can’t but be impressed by his maturity in how he addresses the reporter. Yet, it gets better:
“Education I think [is] super important - like you just educated me now on the pronunciation of your country. It’s a process. So I think that as long as you see progress that’s the most important thing.”
There are certain captains in this World Cup who are much older and much more famous who lack not only the maturity but the humility of Tyler Adams. To use himself as an example of someone who needs to be educated was wonderfully disarming. But beyond that, he did it naturally, in the flow of his answer. This was not a written statement produced by someone at the U.S. Soccer Federation Headquarters - it was an off-the-cuff answer by a player who would much rather be asked a question about the next game than about the present state of racial discrimination in America.
In a World Cup that seemed to have been doomed from the beginning - meaning all the way back in 2010 when Qatar was awarded the finals - it is heartening to see a story like that of Tyler Adams. We Americans love to chant “USA! USA! USA!” but all too often it is when we are coming from a position of strength. Tyler Adams showed us all what the “USA!” chant should sound like when we are coming from a position of humility.