AuthorZirin, Dave

Often sports is just a leisure activity: a pleasant escape from the most burdensome pressures produced by this world. Sometimes it is a foghorn of reactionary refuse, spewing pro-war propaganda or advocating corporate welfare in the guise of stadium spending.

We have also seen sports be a platform for athletes willing to speak out stirringly for social justice. And there are times when sports can play a role in galvanizing an entire community to fight against evil and right a political wrong.

This happened recently in suburban Maryland--Montgomery and Prince George's Counties--when efforts by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to deport a beloved local soccer coach to the small West African nation of Togo resulted in petitions, protest rallies, and even a soccer game. In the end, it became a remarkable example for the entire country that ICE can be beaten back.

The coach is Agbegnigan Amouzou, known locally as "Coach Fofo." He has been in this country for more than twenty years. He has a wife and a son. He works with special needs children in Prince George's County public schools. In addition, he runs a soccer school--the Elite Soccer Youth Development Academy in Silver Spring--for young people throughout the region, where they focus on schoolwork and healthy social interactions as much as soccer.

Coach Fofo actually lives up to the cliche "a pillar in his community." He has been seeking asylum for years, without success, although he faces physical harm if he were to return to Togo due to his criticisms of the country's authoritarian leadership. (Mass protests in Togo in 2017 were ruthlessly crushed.)

Even though Coach Fofo was left without formal asylum status, he had been allowed to stay in the country as long as he checked in with immigration officials on a regular basis. But when ICE--due to new regulations handed down from the Trump Administration--was ready to send Coach Fofo back to Togo, the community leapt into action. Friends and neighbors who had not necessarily seen themselves as "politically active" - changed their posture dramatically. As Silver Spring resident Michele Bellis said to me, "We all know what Coach Fofo means to our area. This is a community with a huge immigrant population from West African...

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