The way Alves handled this situation is one way I have long thought players could respond on the pitch when bananas get thrown at them, so I applaud his cool collected way of essentially stepping on this attempt to insult and intimidate him. Off the pitch is another issue, and both players and various levels of management throughout football and other sports are struggling with the best way to deal with this ongoing problem. For these players the game is their work environment, so the question arises for the rest of us: what happens when we face discrimination in the workplace?
I thankfully have not had to deal with in-my-face discrimination more than a handful of times at work. One episode that stands out in my mind occurred when I worked in the ER in Palo Alto and a man was brought in with complaints of chest pain. The nurses who initially triaged him came over to me and said, "we have an issue here, this guy refuses to have a woman see him." I asked if it was a religious or cultural issue, and the nurse replied it was not. "He said he just doesn't want a woman taking care of him,and he says we need to get a male doctor." I looked at my fellow physician who was staffing that night, also a woman, and shrugged.I wasn't quite sure want to do, honestly, but figured I would talk to the patient before making any decisions. Thankfully he was stable, normal EKG and appeared not uncomfortable.He reiterated that he just did not want to be taken care of by women--he in fact did not want a female nurse either, but somehow he had agreed to having the EKG done. He refused to allow me to examine him, despite my explanations that this was necessary given his complaints of chest pain.I explained further that as the attending ER physician I could not even call for the cardiologists without having performed an initial exam myself. He still refused and then spit out the medications given to him by our nurse, in fact he spit them out AT her. Then he cursed at all of us. No, he was not drunk.
By that time I knew what I had to do. I contacted the cardiology fellow on call, a male, l and said, "I have a guy here who won't let me examine him, so I apologize for this ahead of time, and I am not calling you to see him.But I need to let you know the situation, and that his EKG is normal." After discussing everything with the cardiology fellow, he said, "well I'm not coming to see this guy. He needs to be triaged appropriately, he needs to let someone examine him. He has the option to be examined by you or wait until the next attending comes on." Of course you know what the patient chose, so he sat there and waited until the shift changed and my male colleague took over. He was later admitted to the hospital for observation, no cardiac issues were found and he was discharged within 24 hours.
This was a very tricky situation for me to traverse, although in the end I was happy with how I dealt with it all. As much as I despise all discrimination, I understand this exists in various forms and intensity, and that in truth every individual is perfectly within his or her own right to feel a certain way. But FEELING a certain way does not translate to a right of acting it out. Not liking me for some reason? Fine. Spitting medications in my direction? Not fine. In the professional setting where this occurred, it required all of us on duty that night(incidentally every single person working in the ER that night was female) to respond with restraint while ensuring this man still was offered every opportunity to be treated medically as was indicated.
I have asked myself if I would have responded differently if this was an issue of religious importance, where he would have felt violated in some way by a woman touching him, if we would then have called in a male MD to examine this man. Or if the patient was clinically doing poorly but still refusing any of us treating him, then what? After all these years I am still not sure, but my gut feeling is that I would have contacted the head of the hospital for guidance.
In the end I think our team in the ER did what Alves did in his game: we stayed professional, did not take the discrimination personally(at least not let it show) and we got the job done. It may not have been the perfect way to handle this but maybe there isn't a perfect way, and maybe the whole goal(no pun intended) should be to keep the game going, uninterrupted, by discrimination that always seeks to intimidate those to whom it is targeted.
Cheers to you Dani Alves, that was one classy move on behalf of all of us who ever face discrimination.