Star striker Mario Balotelli of the Italian soccer club AC Milan cried on the bench of his team during an away game at Napoli on Saturday, with some reports saying he was reacting to racist chants from the crowd.
Balotelli, who was filmed on the bench crying after he was subbed late in the game, has in the past been the target of racist epithets due to the color of his skin and the fact that he was raised by a Jewish woman.
But despite the initial reports of a racial element behind Balotelli’s show of emotion, statements from his coach and a teammate indicated it may have been his passion for the game and desire to play that brought him to tears.
“We are players and there are times when we express ourselves that way. I see nothing wrong or abnormal in that. I experienced it at times too,” Coach Clarence Seedorf told Sky Sport Italia.
“What can I say about Balotelli’s tears? They were the tears of a sportsman,” he said in a press conference.
Mario Balotelli crying on the bench due to racist chanting at him. Disgraceful! https://t.co/e0DpuFxZ9p
— Football Vines (@FootballVines) February 8, 2014
“Mario really cares about doing well with Milan and making his mark,” said teammate Ignazio Abate. “He is sentimental. It’s a shame that he got so downhearted about it, as he needs to keep his head up.”
Balotelli was born Mario Barwuah to immigrants from Ghana in Palermo, but he was raised by a Jewish Italian foster mother, Silvia Balotelli, from the age of three.
Some neo-Nazi groups, in Italy and beyond, who had already been abusing the player because he is black, have also begun targeting him for his Jewish “ancestry,” The Times of Israel reported in 2012.
One racist on an extremist website, Stormfront, wrote: “Balotelli’s black and he’s Jewish. He should play for Israel, not Italy.”
The Balotellis also have relatives in Israel, Ynet reported, and their daughter studied at the Interdisciplinary Center at Herzliya.
Alongside his rare talent for scoring goals, Balotelli has been a figure of controversy, ridicule and affection over the years — sporting eccentric hairstyles, once having his UK home set on fire by errant fireworks, and being sent off intermittently for undisciplined behavior on the field.