The internet was abuzz Monday after an image of a teenage basketball prospect for North Carolina’s Concord First Assembly named Cheick Traore caught a few people’s attention. Traore was called a grown man. He was called an imposter.
Here’s the photo in question of Traore, before we get into a deeper analysis of why we think he’s being a bit unfairly maligned.
First, let’s get a few things straight. Traore hails from the Ivory Coast, which has had some issues with passports and birthdates in the past. So have other African nations, yet there have been plenty of Ivorians who have also simply appeared older than they are.
A classic example? Franck Kessie, who starred for the Ivory Coast’s soccer squad at the U-17 World Cup while looking like this:
Here’s another shot of him in action, via Getty and the Cybereagles Forum:
Again, that’s a very mature looking 17-year-old … but a 17-year-old nonetheless.
Of course, Franck Kessie is hardly the first very mature looking soccer star of African descent. Take current Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian player — who was born of Congolese parents — reportedly had to bring his birth certificate with him to all youth tournaments to prove that he wasn’t overage.
Here’s why those concerns started emerging when he was just 13 years old:
And it turns out a 13-year-old who looks like that eventually becomes a 16-year-old Anderlecht sensation who looks like this:
All of this is to underscore how players of African heritage can sometimes mature into much more physically advanced bodies at an earlier age than some counterparts. There’s nothing racist about that statement, it’s just true in the case of players like Kessie and Lukaku. We’re willing to bet it may be true of Traore, too.
And, to top it off, Traore isn’t the first controversial case like this we’ve seen in recent years, either. Remember Miami football recruit Realus George, who committed to be a Hurricanes fullback in November with this photo as a backdrop?
Two years earlier, Auburn recruit Montavious Atkinson got similar treatment because of this particular recruiting photo:
Here was Montavious Atkinson during his recruiting visit:
And here he is during his freshman season:
The point is that images can paint a very different picture, particularly if they’re taken in precisely the wrong moment, even if that isn’t the intention. No one is accusing the Phenom Hoops Report crew of trying to make Traore look like he’s 36, but let’s just say some of the other photos of the Concord First Assembly star around the internet show proof that he’s still buying plenty of Noxema. Like this one (quite literally, he needs some for a pimple on his right cheek), the one on this page, and definitely this one.
Yes, Cheick Traore looks as if he could sell you a car before he may be legally driving one in one picture online. Let’s just all cool down before proclaiming him to be another man trying to beat the system. This whole gimmick is starting to feel more than just a little bit prejudiced, especially considering the fact that all of these recruits and international stars have turned out to be just the age they said they were so far.