I got to experience a feeling of utter failure yesterday, when literally 15 seconds after I wrote and published this story extolling how excellent Germán Pezzella has been all year, I got a look at this photo of his Halloween costume (he’s second from the left). I’m not going to post the picture in this article because it is bad and racist and those are things that I don’t want this website to be, but it’s definitely something that we need to address.
Look, I know that professional athletes are not role models. They’re young men who have a lot of money and a lot of fame and a lot of free time, which are three things that pretty much no young man ought to be trusted with. A dude’s performance on the pitch doesn’t have anything to do with who he is off it, a point that’s been driven home in any variety of painful ways over the years for Fiorentina fans, and for fans of any team. From Adrian Mutu doing so many things to Marcos Alonso literally killing someone to Felipe Melo recently coming out to support Jair Bolsonaro to any number of other incidents, it has been generously illustrated for us that footballers do bad stuff all the damn time.
It’s easy to like Pezzella on the pitch. He’s an excellent centerback and carries more responsibility for Fiorentina’s marvelous goals against tally than anyone else on the team. He’s shown some real leadership since he put on the armband last year and the younger players (which means everyone but Cyril Théréau) seem to look up to him. The way that he’s respected Davide Astori has been moving and cool with the whole holding up the DA13 armband in front of the Curva for every match at the Franchi.
But that doesn’t mean that we know him, and it doesn’t mean that he’s not going to do really bad and dumb stuff in his life off the pitch, no matter how hard we wish otherwise. Like everyone else on the roster, he’s a complete stranger to us. All we know about him comes from his time on the field and his social media, and neither of those really provide a window into who he is, because those are both heavily curated environments. I want to believe that he’s a good guy who did something really, really dumb, but maybe he’s not. Maybe he’s not a good guy. Maybe this is who he is. I don’t know and never will.
To his very slight credit, he’s already apologized (albeit not super convincingly) on Instagram, and the backlash should ensure that he never does something like this again. But that’s not enough. He needs to address this head on. He needs to go on camera and explain that his actions were born from ignorance. He needs to explain how he’s going to educate himself and others so that there’s nothing resembling a repeat. He needs to explain that racism and bigotry don’t belong at Fiorentina, or at any other club, or in the world in general. And then he needs to live up to those explanations and make an effort to combat that kind of evil. At that point, I think I’ll be willing to forgive him and continue thinking of him as an inspirational Viola captain and outstanding player and guy who’s probably pretty okay.
But until then, every time I see him on a screen, this is going to flash through my mind. That’s going to ruin him, and Fiorentina, for me just a little bit, which is a goddamn shame. I want to like everyone who pulls on that purple shirt, and that goes double for the guy who straps on the armband. But when he does something that is so thoughtlessly, uselessly, and aggressively offensive to so many people, it’s hard, man. It’s real damn hard. Because I do not want to support a club where this kind of bullshit is okay.