Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Sticks and stones

It is still a great mystery as to what was said to the French player Zidane during the World Cup that caused him to headbutt the Italian player Materazzi in the chest. What struck most observers was not how impulsive it was, but how deliberate: first Materazzi grabs Zidane's jersey and they exchange words as Zidane pushes Materazzi's arm away, and then Zidane turns away and it looks like Materazzi says something behind his back because Zidane does a double take and stops as Materazzi trots forward like nothing happened, then Zidane pulls forward for a few seconds and after another double take, slowly turns and bashes his forehead against Materazzi's chest. The human forehead, it should be noted, is a perfect arch in all planes and one of the heaviest and thickest bones in the body. Materazzi crumples and groans in agony on the field as a ref rushes out holding a red penalty card. Zidane ends up missing the penalty kick phase where the Italians win the game. I find it exceedingly ironic that so many Americans have suggested soccer is not violent enough to capture attention.

Just what could have spurred Zidane to lose it so savagely in front of an audience of billions? Speculation continues as the Italian player first denies that he said anything, then denies that he said anything particularly insulting while refusing to say exactly what he did say. Some people think that it must have been some insult directed at Zidane's family members, considering his mom is in the hospital. Others have heard that Materazzi called Zidane 'terrorist' or made a racist comment about Zidane's Algerian heritage. The latter seemed the most probable given the extremity of observed reaction, something extreme must have been said, beyond "yo'mama" trash-talk. Given the international nature of soccer, FIFA officials have been urged to consider racial taunts as more serious to the well-being of the sport than the usual taunts.

Whatever was said, Zidane lost his cool during a critical moment for his team. No insult requires that you are given unlimited latitude as to your revenge. Nevertheless, since the race-baiting tactics of his opponent has been so throughly glossed over, it should be noted that there has been sympathy in France for Zidane, as he is still regarded one of the greatest soccer players of all time and an inspiration to North Africans in Europe.

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