France’s star striker scored a humiliating online own goal on Sunday, when he tweeted out a picture of himself in blackface wearing a Harlem Globetrotters uniform.
Antoine Griezmann, 26, posted the picture with the caption “80’s Party”, alongside a laughing emoji. Twitter quickly accused Griezmann of racism, but the soccer star was initially nonplussed, tweeting “Calm down everyone. I’m a fan of the Harlem Globetrotters and this is a tribute.”
Eventually Griezmann deleted both tweets and wrote an apology. “I recognize that it was insensitive on my part,” he said. “If I have offended some people I apologize.”
It’s not clear why Griezmann thought this costume was actually acceptable — and initially doubled down on defending it.
Among those who criticized Griezmann was British Member of Parliament David Lammy. “There are so, so many different options for an 80s party… that don’t involve blackface,” he tweeted. “I can’t believe we’re out here in 2017 saying don’t dress up in blackface.”
Griezmann, who currently plays for the Spanish side Atletico Madrid as well as the French national team Les Bleus, is one of the most sought-after strikers in soccer right now. He has been repeatedly linked with a $120 million move to FC Barcelona or Manchester United and also has lucrative sponsorship deals with Puma and Head and Shoulders shampoo. Griezmann’s tone deaf costume — and his defense of it — could cost him some of these sponsorships.
It could also create tension between Griezmann and his French national teammates ahead of the World Cup in Russia this summer. The French squad is currently filled with some of the most sought-after talents in soccer, including Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba, teenaged superstars Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele, and Chelsea’s N’Golo Kanté. All of these players are also black, so they’re unlikely to be very impressed with Griezmann’s racist party costume.
Blackface remains a bizarre staple of certain European cultures, despite its clear racist implications. In the Netherlands, during the Christmas festival of Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), Dutch people paint their faces black, don afro wigs, and give themselves exaggeratedly-large red lips. Meanwhile in Spain, one of the three Reyes Magos, portrayed at Epiphany, traditionally wore blackface. Both countries have begun phasing out the traditions, but they still remain a part of their cultures.
Les Bleus are no strangers to racially-tinged scandals. In 2015, striker Karim Benzema was accused of trying to use a sex tape to blackmail his French national teammate Mathieu Valbuena. The case remains in court, but in July, a French court ruled in favor of Benzema’s effort to get the case dropped. Meanwhile, Benzema has been refused back on to the National Team, which the striker maintains is partly due to his Algerian heritage.