Navia: Latino Players Face Discrimination in the US

Posted on January 8, 2013 2:55 pm

It is not often that I get to break the news, since this space is more dedicated to providing analysis on anticipated events (namely, World Cup qualifying, the Gold Cup and the CONCACAF Champions League). But the last Google search I conducted before writing this piece revealed no English-language coverage of the following story, so this one is fresh off the blocks.

Chilean national Reinaldo Navia, formerly of the NASL’s Atlanta Silverbacks and scorer of their consolation goal in the 5-1 thrashing by Seattle Sounders in the last US Open Cup, has launched some fiery accusations towards his last club and coach Eric Wynalda. We will look at the extent to which they can be considered accurate on a national level; but if the complaints have any foundation, Atlanta and the NASL must respond as soon as possible to limit the damage.

Here are his comments to Chilean newspaper La Tercera, translated and edited slightly for readability:

The gringos are super-closed, nationalistic and hate everything that’s not from them.

In the team [Atlanta] there were three players from the US who had been there the longest, and who got the Honduran coach [Alex Pineda Chacón] fired.

Their idea was to bring one of their own, and they managed to bring Eric Wynalda. It was like a mafia against the Latinos. I was discriminated against.

There was an Ecuadorean there who ended up bored and left [because of the Latinos being marginalized in practices]. You had to be psychologically strong [to continue there].

When he arrived, [Wynalda] ordered seven Latino players off the team, but he couldn’t get rid of me because the [club] president backed me. In the practices he never considered me. I was seated next to the balls and I didn’t understand why, if I was scoring goals.

A couple of curiosities immediately arise: first, Navia himself admits that the support of Club President Andy Smith (supposedly a US native of the nationalistic variety) kept him in Atlanta over his coach’s dissent. And the idea that Wynalda, who once accepted a job as coach and scout for Murcielagos FC in Mexico, would hold prejudices against Latinos sounds significantly farfetched.

The best response I can provide is simply this: his experience with three players and a coach at one club hardly warrants such a sweeping generalization of the 250 million non-Latinos in this country. If his domestic teammates deliberately excluded the Latino contingent, that is unfortunate; and I in no way pretend to deny or minimize the actual discrimination (institutionalized, rhetorical and otherwise) that Latinos can suffer from the more jingoistic and close-minded of my compatriots. But looking at Major League Soccer (since Navia brought the entire US into the discussion), practically every team features at least one player of Latino heritage; the proudly Mexican club Chivas de Guadalajara runs a sister team in the US top flight; and the league annually awards a “Latino of the Year” prize. In fact, the Honduran team that crushed Canada last year featured no fewer than five players who have plied their trade in MLS in the last two years, not counting recent Toronto FC signing Arnold Peralta. The argument that Latino players are unwanted on a national scale is simply indefensible.

UPDATE: Navia has since clarified that he did not use the word discrimination, although that still leaves the accusations against his ex-teammates and Wynalda to be addressed.

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