This Week in Mario Balotelli: Why Always Us?

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For American athletes, getting name-checked by rappers is a rite of passage on the path from relative anonymity to cultural relevance. Usually, the rapper uses the athlete as as analogue to his own greatness or cool. Athletes and rappers often come from the same background, and the lyrics act as means of identification as much as they serve as boasts. Or, you know, sometimes the name just fits the bar.

On Christmas Eve, the reasonably popular British rapper Tinchy Stryder released a mixtape with the track "Mario Balotelli." It features a quote from Balotelli in the intro, uses his immortal "Why Always Me?" slogan as a hook, and generally describes the life of a man (Stryder, Balotelli, the listener—take your pick) who finds himself put upon by the establishment for just being himself. The idea, apart from that every song should begin with an poorly sourced audio clip, is that Balotelli carries the banner for all manner of pariahs and black sheep.

That concept might seem ridiculous given that both Balotelli and Stryder have managed to succeed at their respective careers while essentially remaining themselves. Yet, in a sporting context where most fans (myself included) treat Balotelli as some sort of social experiment worthy of little more than observation and analysis, it's worthwhile to consider that people like Stryder, a Ghanaian-born artist who earned a great deal of fame at a very young age, would find common ground with an Italian son of Ghanaian immigrants whose talent has made him a center of media attention since the age of 17. There's an entire group of people in Europe (and probably a few in this hemisphere, too) who consider Balotelli to be more than a hyperactive imp with a foot like a traction engine. Not all athletes get name-dropped because they provide a convenient rhyme.

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