SAN FRANCISCO—The Azkals capped a historic run in the AFC Challenge Cup by placing third. That’s great news. We should be proud and celebrate.
If only we didn’t have to deal with what now appears to be a battle of one form of chauvinism against another.
My last column was getting long so I opted not to repeat what I already said about the sexual harassment allegations against the team.
That was a mistake.
For it left the impression (expressed even by a few friends) that while I weighed in on broadcaster Arnold Clavio’s bigoted remarks against the foreign-born Azkals members, I ignored the serious claims made by Cristy Ramos against two players.
In fact, I wrote about Ramos’s complaint first before taking on the Clavio controversy. You can read that first piece here.
Let me repeat the gist of what I said: Anyone who takes the trouble to consider the way the country’s female athletes are portrayed — as Ramos did with her reported concern that the name Malditas for the women’s team is demeaning — deserves to be heard.
Anyone who would have the guts to publicly take on a group of male folk heroes like the Azkals deserves to be taken seriously.
It’s heartening to know that one prominent member of the Philippine football organization appreciates the seriousness of Ramos’s complaint.
“As a woman, I believe that sexual harassment is a grave concern as it violates the dignity not only of women but of every person,” Marielle Benitez, team captain of the Malditas, said in an e-mail. “It is a serious matter that needs immediate investigation and action, which the PFF is doing right now.”
Unfortunately, the sexual harassment issue got buried in the noise when Clavio joined the fray with an ill-advised, bizarre, bigoted rant in which he portrayed the foreign-born members of the team as just pretending to be Filipinos.
And let me stress that point: Clavio’s rant was not only unfair; it simply did not make sense.
Which was why it was appropriate for the Azkals, their supporters and even other Filipinos who couldn’t care less about football to react strongly.
But then comes another twist in this controversy: We’ve seen a wave of responses that can only be portrayed as over-the-top reactions to the over-the-top rambling of a TV personality.
Shockingly, one of them came from a senior member of the Philippine football organization and the head coach of the Malditas, Ernie Nierras.
Now, I can understand that Nierras got really upset over Clavio’s rant.
But as one who is supposed to be responsible for guiding, training, inspiring these young people — including my niece, Patrice Impelido, by the way — Nierras should always strive to act professionally — to be always in control.
That’s not what he did with his own over-the-top rant on PinoyFootball.com.
In a 1,900 word diatribe, titled “We Are Who We Are – Filipinos!” Nierras recalls the struggle and dramatic rise of the struggles and the love and admiration they’ve inspired among Filipinos, declaring, “Our beloved Azkals are an example of overnight success.”
Then he pivots to what he apparently sees as sinister efforts to bring down the team.
He calls one critic “a half-baked weirdo,” who makes “dumb wit remarks.” He questions the timing of Ramos’s complaint, suggesting a conspiracy.
He reserves his most heated barrage at Clavio.
He repeats the childish comment from an Azkal supporter who took aim at Clavio’s looks. He calls Clavio’s female show colleagues “dumb wit mestiza co-hostesses” and he blasts Clavio’s comments as “just F&^*(&G STUPID!”
“Get a hammer and hit yourself on the head a few times,” Nierras railed. “Maybe you will find it in you to apologize to the mothers you insulted, to our idols, the AZKALS, and to the millions of Filipinas you insulted.”
And he keeps going: “Arnold Clavio, and others like him will never understand or comprehend this passion. He has never been in the battlefield, where winning is not always the ultimate reward, compared to the honor of representing your country. … Arnold Clavio when you attack the Azkals you attack the fans. … … You question us! You insult the AZKALS? You insult us! I promise you, the ‘US’ are more than your supporters! You picked a fight you cannot win.”
Did he have Handel’s Messiah or maybe the theme from Star Wars playing in the background while writing that last part? Was he imagining himself as Bill Pullman making a speech in that climactic scene in “Independence Day?”
Like I said, I understand the anger.
But this bombast is not what I would want to hear from a person who is supposed to be training young athletes, not just to become better competitors but also to become more mature, more responsible individuals and representatives of the Philippines.
I expect a coach to be decisive, determined, ready to defend his or her players, to be passionate in wanting the team to succeed.
But I also expect that person to be cool, mature and in control in the face of criticism and attacks. I expect him or her to never ever resort to immature name-calling — to never resort to the same kind of petty verbal assaults he was reacting against.
And the “we-are-the-warriors-in-the-battlefield-and-don’t-you-dare-question-us” tone sounded odd, even troubling. It’s bound to reinforce the criticism that all the attention and praise have gone to the heads of some people in the Azkals organization.
As I stressed in the last column, what Clavio said was offensive, even obnoxious. And for those who didn’t read my last column please check it out here.
But what bugged me was how the reaction against Clavio’s chauvinism drowned out the chauvinism suggested in the claims of sexual harassment against the team.
For as I noted before the Ramos complaint follows an earlier, more serious allegation of rape against some team members — a charge that has apparently been dismissed by some team members with the not-so-reassuring excuse: that the accuser is someone they portray as a woman with a checkered reputation and should therefore not be taken seriously.
And Nierras sounds so dismissive, even arrogant, in the way he portrayed Ramos’s complaint, one wonders if the people leading the Azkals and the Malditas really understand the seriousness of sexual harassment — which after all is very serious problem in the world of sports, especially when it comes to superstar athletes like the Azkals.
Yes, there is a process to determine what really happened.
But whatever comes out of the investigation, the Azkals — and to some extent the Malditas — must show the world that they are prepared to act decisively on allegations of sexual harassment and abuse.
That they take such accusations seriously.
That they are ready to take them on with the same passion and energy that they and their supporters showed in rejecting the bigoted attacks against them.
And they must also demonstrate that they can take everything that’s been hurled at them with the same coolness, poise and determination that helped them prevail against more powerful rivals on the football field.
On Twitter @KuwentoPimentel. On Facebook at www.facebook.com/benjamin.pimentel