Month: June 2014

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Lance Parker’s Ideas About Acceptance in the Beautiful Game

Who are you? Such a simple question seems like it should also have a simple answer. But instead, they’re three words which reflect so many possibilities about your character, appearance, beliefs, sexuality and gender, and much more. The world as we know it hasn’t always been accepting of all people — the world of sports is no exception to this rule. We’ve all seen how people can use ideas of what makes us who we are to set us apart from others. But then there are events like FIFA World Cup matches which allow us to have a glimpse of what acceptance can look like as so many nations come together to celebrate the game of football/soccer.

In this interview, I talk with one of Edmonton’s well known players of the game, who’s the goalie for the FC Edmonton team in the North American Soccer League (NASL): Lance Parker. Through his own life experiences and ideas about the game he loves, the role of identities including sexuality and gender and even racial issues in the beautiful game, are explored. His answers let us see the core of who Lance Parker is: a person. Complex, like you. And we also get a sense of what topics need to be pushed forward in the beautiful game’s future.

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Becky: You once said in an interview that your father is your hero. So what was it like growing up with your hero to guide you?

Lance: My father is an artist [and] an art teacher. Growing up my mother was at work a lot, in the office — so my dad taught from the house. He had a studio that he built at our house and he was around for most of the time. So growing up, pretty much everything I learnt was from him. He started me on work in the yard, work in the house, and I learnt a lot of common sense knowledge from him — growing up, he taught me a lot.

Becky: Did you ever do art yourself?

Lance: [Laughs] No not really. I can draw something if I’m looking at it. But if I just sort of close my eyes and imagine something there’s no chance! But as I mentioned, my family is a very artistic family. My dad’s a professional artist. He’s been doing that all his life. My mom after she quit her [accounting] job with the office, she became a professional photographer. My sister graduated from college with a degree in computer animation. So I’m kind of like the black sheep of the family.

Becky: Reading interviews about how you and your FC teammates get along, it almost seems like you’re all family. What are some of the best things for you about playing with the guys on your team?

Lance: [The relationship] usually differs from year to year. Some players get traded and some people retire. But usually, you still have the same core from year to year…and then, the new guys come in and they throw in their own personality both off field and on field. [Every] year you get a different atmosphere off the field and on it — and this year’s team, we’re a really tight knit group of people.

Becky: Do you ever play pranks on each other?

Lance: [Grins] Yeah, every now and then — nothing serious.

Becky: Can you tell me about a moment when you first realized that you wanted to be a football/soccer player?

Lance: It was when I was twelve years old. There was a team that was put together of all these guys from Oklahoma [where Lance grew up] to go over to England to play a tournament. It was my first time in England and we were there playing in a tournament and we got to go to a couple games. Seeing the atmosphere, witnessing the culture that Europeans surround around football culture — it was just absolutely incredible! And that’s when I fell in love with it and thought: This is what I want to do for a job. I want to be a professional soccer player. So from age twelve I quit all the other sports I was playing — I was a little kid playing everything: basketball, baseball, soccer. I decided at twelve to quit everything and focus on soccer.

Becky: How did your family react when you first told them that you wanted to be a professional soccer player?

Lance: I’ve been extremely lucky to have parents that support me. They never forced me as a child to do what they wanted… I see a lot of (especially growing up) dads [who to them] their kids were invisible. [Their kids] don’t want to play baseball but they make them practice for like twelve hours a day — they’re trying to I guess live a dream through their kids, and I’m so lucky that my parents never made me do that. They told me that whatever you know you want to do, you can do it. So you can play soccer, you can do this, you can do that.

Becky: I think gender roles are more flexible, less structured, in our world today than they were a century ago or even during our parent’s times. But in your opinion, what does it mean to be a man in today’s world?

Lance: In what terms — to be a man versus a boy, to be a man versus a gentleman, to be just a man with a manly presence?

Becky: Let’s go with a man versus a boy.

Lance: [Pauses] Being a man versus a boy, for me, that has to do a lot with maturity. There’s definitely a lot of grown — grown males I should say — that aren’t men. They’re still boys. The way they act, the way they behave, present themselves in public, [the] kind of actions that they take, the way they present themselves, carry themselves — that I would consider them boys. A man, he’s gonna think before he acts, he’s careful of what he says, there’s just more thought process about how he goes about his day. And boys they just tend to act without thinking, he’s just spur of the moment, and he gets in trouble a lot.

Photo: Shirley Green

Photo: Shirley Green

Becky: How has the game of soccer helped to develop your personality as a man?

Lance: It’s helped me to be able to work well with others in a game setting. So whether that’s having to get along with people at work, or at school, or a team project, it’s helped me to be really good at that. It’s also helped me develop a leadership role with all my former teams: college, club, high school — you kind of figure out the best ways to deal with certain people. Different people act differently to different scenarios, [I’ve seen how] some people you get the best out of them by really giving it to them, being pissed off, yelling at them. Other people they shut down on you. You know, so you have to know ‘hey, I’ve got to encourage this guy.’ [Give] positive criticism and [be] a little more soft spoken. Some guys might get embarrassed if you call them out in front of the team. So it’s helped me to read people better, to know how to interact with people, and to get the best out of them. And as I said, it’s helped me to grow as a leader, as an individual.

Becky: There can be times when celebrities are leaders who set examples for us to follow. Some sport celebrities, recently like Michael Sam from the NFL, set the bar high for others to follow. [Michael Sam is now the first openly gay player in the history of the NFL.] Do you see sports as a place that openly accepts people regardless of their background?

Lance: No. No, I don’t.

Becky: That was a very quick response, and very honest. Why not?

Lance: Because sport has been around for a very long time. Since the beginning of different sports, the mentality of everything like that was very hush-hush and some players think things like if you’re “too feminine” you can’t play sports. Or guys might be extremely homophobic and think: ‘I can’t have this guy on my team because he’s going to be looking at me funnily’. Or it makes them uncomfortable. So yeah, it’s definitely not accepted yet in sports.

Becky: Do you foresee a time when it might be accepted — even though it’s hard to predict when exactly?

Lance: Yeah I do. It’s probably going to take a long time though, especially with more of the “macho” sports where you have to be a “real man” to play the game. And that’s sad because your sexual orientation shouldn’t determine how good of an athlete you are, how smart you are, or anything like that.

Becky: When I was a girl, I had a dream of being the first girl to play beside players like Jordan or O’Neil in the NBA. Do you think pro- mixed gender teams could ever become a thing in the soccer world’s future?

Lance: Never.

Becky: Never? Why not?

Lance: I actually had a conversation about this last week with my friends. [There are] professional women’s and professional men’s soccer, but I don’t see them combining them…. Women can be extremely gifted technically. Like my friends in college had played with soccer women and their technique was flawless, amazing. But you can only get so far with that. If you have a five foot six girl and a six foot guy going up against each other for a head ball, you know the girl’s not likely to win that. And even if you say, ok well if the girls are quick enough to move the ball around the guy and get a couple of the guys [on her team] to get to it, or even if she has enough time to take a shot, it just won’t be as powerful as potentially another male to get the ball by the goalkeeper. In some instances though you don’t need that! In some instances, you need to pace it around a goalkeeper, and yes [women] are perfect for that, but then there’s other times when you just gotta rip it as hard as you can. So there’s just genetic things that you can’t leave behind.

Photo: M31

Photo: M31

Becky: Can I ask what brought about the conversation between you and your friends?

Lance: It was actually because I did an appearance and there was a guy that came up to me at the appearance and he [didn’t know too much] about soccer. He was a big hockey fan. But he asked me a very similar question. He was like: ‘Hey! So did you know that a female goalie for the Oilers came in and trained with the team?’ And I thought about it for a little bit and … I can see a female playing hockey because I believe goalies can’t be touched in hockey right? And so, it’s all about quick reaction…. So he had asked me that question and then I was talking to my friend afterwards [about it]. I’d never been asked that question before, so on a whole, that’s good to be discussing it in society. And yes some females are [really good] but I just don’t think they’d be better than some guys in terms of [females] being more technical and less physical.

Becky: What can be done to help promote the idea of equality between all people regardless of their background – whether that’s gender, religion, race, etc., in sports?

Lance: I think there have been steps taken towards some things. Race has been a topic that been [worked on] throughout previous decades. Religion has come about [in Edmonton] with a Muslim player that had to go through Ramadan and I thought that [would be the most difficult thing], because you’re a professional athlete, so you have to train. But you’re not allowed to fuel your body throughout the day…. But the coaches did well with it, accommodated him, which I thought was really cool! So I don’t think religion has been a big thing [in Edmonton]. Some teams still pray before games and if you are or aren’t religious you can take it for what it [means to you]. And I feel that no one gets upset about that anymore. And with homosexuality it’s just coming to light and there are guys that are coming out and I honestly think that the reception on that has been taken extremely well by most of the general public. But you still definitely have people that don’t agree with it. And for me I think that’s kind of how they’ve been raised — and until you get the majority of people that believe in [their sexuality not mattering] then things still have to be worked on.

Becky: Have you ever heard bad statements made from viewers in the stands at games towards the players about things like race, or negative comments about sexual orientation, etc.?

Lance: No, nothing like that has ever happened. They chirp at the other teams all the time. But I haven’t personally heard them say anything about race or religion, homosexuality, or anything like that. But the players are getting wise and learning how to deal with situations like that. Like — I forgot who exactly this was — but a soccer player was about to take a corner kick and this literally happened about a month ago and… somebody threw a banana at him. So the guy played it off amazingly. He got the banana thrown at him, so he goes over and he picks it up, he peels it, he takes a bite of it, and then he goes in [to the field] and he’s the guy that gives the assist to beat the other team. And he jokes and says that the banana gave him energy to build the assist to beat that team. So he dealt with that really well. But yeah there’s still definitely stuff that goes on like that. In my experience, I haven’t witnessed anything like that and I hope I don’t have to.

[The player was Dani Alves. Watch his reaction in the video below.]

Becky: Final question: FIFA, 2014, Brazil. Which team are you rooting for?

Lance: [Chuckles] I’m rooting for the US obviously. But if I have to be honest, I’d be surprised if they make it out of their bracket… Whoever wins the semi-final game — which I think is going to be Germany versus Brazil — is going to win the tournament.

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This interview is a part of the series “Identity Games” on The Times For a Feast.

Keep up to date with Lance. Follow him on Twitter (twitter.com/lanceAparker), Facebook (facebook.com/LanceAParker21), and Instagram (lanceAparker).

Paint and Tear Gas: Ganzeer’s Art and Egypt’s Revolution

It was the most thrilling and exhilarating time of my life. Seeing people band together and sacrifice themselves in the face of armed troops with nothing else but their voices, and all for what? For other people, people they didn’t even know, future generations they would never meet… It was such a glorious thing to experience. The closest thing I’ve ever experienced to seeing God.

On January 25, 2011, one of the greatest days in Egypt’s history took place. Inspired by what he was seeing, a 29-year-old man decided to record the Revolution the best way he knew how —through his art. He was born Mohammad Fahmy, but today he’s recognized by another name: Ganzeer, inspired by the Arabic word for “chain”.

Ganzeer’s first work for the Revolution was unplanned because he didn’t expect to be in the crowd of revolutionaries. He describes the elated feeling he experienced that day in Tahrir Square as “the most thrilling and exhilarating time” of his life. Armed with spray paint, he climbed to the top of a billboard — his canvas. On it he wrote simple, yet powerful words over the face staring back at him. The crowd of protesters below him responded with loud, enthusiastic cheers. Down with Mubarak! The freshly painted words glistened atop the face of Hosni Mubarak, former president of Egypt.

It was on February 2nd that Ganzeer created his first visual reaction to Mubarak’s continued refusal to resign: a stencil of symbols that read, “Mubarak doesn’t equal Egypt”.

Eight days later, Mubarak decided to confront protesters with a defiant and pleading speech: “I am addressing you today with a speech…of a father to his sons and daughters,” he began. “Those who have committed crimes against our youth will be out on trial according to the courts and the laws. They will get severe punishments.”

The next day, Vice President Omar Suleiman briefly addressed Egypt, and the world, with important news; Mubarak was no longer president. Egyptian flags waved throughout Tahrir Square while protesters sang, cheered, prayed, and cried under the thunder of fireworks exploding above them; protesters like Ganzeer who’d been fighting for three weeks for this moment of freedom.

Ganzeer was raised in a “semi-quiet residential neighbourhood with many stray dogs [that he and other kids his age] befriended” in Ard El-Golf, Heliopolis, “City of the Sun”. There, in the northwest corner of Cairo, he admired his older brother’s Nintendo games and copied the figures from their superhero comics; influences that led him to become a graphic design artist, writer and painter years later. In college it allowed him to connect to the hub of Cairo, a source of inspiration for his work. “I am fascinated by cities and megacities and how they function,” he explains.

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While Ganzeer was experiencing life in Heliopolis, a neighbourhood with a mix of low to high income families, Mubarak was often at work nearby in one of his presidential palaces. During his three decades of control, Mubarak ruled Egypt, unjustly imprisoning citizens and restricting freedom of speech and expression.

On Mubarak’s last day in power, February 11, 2011, the army kept watch over thousands of protesters as they waited outside Heliopolis Palace for Mubarak to leave. In the vice president’s address, he gave another piece of important news. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) — a group of senior military men headed by General Tantawi at the time — would protect Egypt until elections took place. Protesters turned to them for help with ongoing changes. Removing emergency law was one of the many demands of change from the start. After Mubarak’s resignation, the army had promised to remove the law, but failed to do so.

The hopeful relationship between protesters and the military on February 11th was soon dividing Egyptians in their loyalties and making them doubt the Revolution. Chants of “Down with the army!” would soon replace the chants of “Down with Mubarak!” that had filled Tahrir Square earlier in the year. People began to march against the army’s rule.

Tensions between the military, the police and the people had reached a dangerous point by November 19, 2011. Lining Mohamed Mahmoud Street for five days, the riot police, or Central Security Forces (CSF), stood and blocked the advancement of unarmed protesters. The police threw teargas onto the road and continued to act as a human barricade, blocking the path towards Tahrir Square and the site of the Interior Ministry while the heavy haze of gas stung protesters’ eyes.

Many died during those five days. Doctors who treated the injured said that protesters suffered serious side effects from the use of teargas; either coughing up blood or suffering damage to their nervous systems. Others lost their eyes as a result of snipers’ shots to their heads.

Soon Mohamed Mahmoud Street in Cairo would be known as “The Eyes of Freedom Street”. From north to south, art covered the walls of this street and told stories of loss beside stories of continued hope. Ganzeer also used these walls to help tell these stories and reflect the conscience of the Revolution. Working with other artists, he was determined to paint faces of martyrs of the Revolution. Ganzeer wrote about the project on his blog: “On one hand, the goal is to honour the martyrs, and on another hand provide passers-by with a reminder of Egypt’s struggle for freedom, democracy and equality.”

Many times work like this would be whitewashed under the SCAF’s time in power, but the images would always reappear no matter how many times they were cleared.

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It’s not like doing graffiti was a totally safe game up to this point.

By the time Morsi had won the elections on June 30, 2012, and the SCAF had relinquished its power to the new president, many felt that the Revolution was coming to an end. In exhibits like “The Virus is Spreading” in October 2012, Ganzeer encouraged people to continue fighting for civil liberties and human rights. He also looked at political, social, cultural and artistic establishments and their misuse of power.

Giving individual willpower over to the will of establishments is something Ganzeer critiques as being the cause of changing opinions about the Revolution, saying, “We are in an obvious phase of pretend-adoption, void of any traces of true change, but just enough of a pretense to put revolutionary fervor to sleep.”

It wouldn’t be long until Morsi’s face appeared next to those of Mubarak and other government and military leaders on the walls of Mohamed Mahmoud Street. Since July 2013, a counter-revolution between pro- and anti-Morsi protesters has continued. Brotherhood supporters have been rounded up in mass arrests by the SCAF under General el-Sisi — in power once again until the next election.

On May 26, 2011, Ganzeer was a target of the authorities for his art activism. He was arrested for leading Mad Graffiti Weekend — a movement to get artists worldwide to use their art as peaceful protest against injustice by SCAF and other authorities.

“When I was detained,” he begins, “I was welcomed into the office of a high-ranking military officer who offered me a soda and then a Nescafé. They were all eerily nice and I was released on the very same day.”

This is the opposite of recent targeting by the SCAF and authorities of the media, Morsi supporters, and anyone who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Supporters of Morsi have tried to use graffiti as a tool to fight back against what they believe was a coup on July 5, 2013, but they may have another battle to face in the near future. A proposed law wants to make graffiti illegal, where anyone caught doing it will either be fined 100,000 Egyptian pounds (15,967.40 Canadian dollars) or face up to four years in jail.

Regardless of the situation, Ganzeer and other artists continue to use their art as a weapon to fight for change. “One could have easily been charged with plotting against the state with the type of graffiti we’ve been doing, [but] we’ll always try and do what we think is the right thing, even if the government oppresses us.”

Read the original at: markermagazine/paint-tear-gas.