How Zidane's Headbutt and World Cup Soccer Played in America
By: Joe American
By now, virtually everyone in the world has seen the dramatic replay of the great French midfielder, Zinedine Zidane, headbutting Italian defender Marci Materazzi in the chest, and knocking him to the ground during the World Cup Final Game last Sunday.
On Monday evening, this headbutt incident was shown on almost every American network news channel. The talking heads jumped to conclusions and universally condemned Zidane; indeed, one network's anchorman actually called him a "louse." It's oh-so-typical that the mainstream media were too lazy to ask journalistically obvious questions, much less provide answers: "Why would professional soccer's equivalent of Michael Jordan do such a bizarre thing in his very last game? Was there was any reason for his red-card foul?"
And yet the answers to those questions could very well uncover important mitigating circumstances. For instance, my European friends tell me that a respected professional lip reader was retained to analyze the World Cup Final Game on videotape. Unsurprisingly, the lip reader discovered that Marco Materazzi had intentionally provoked Zinedine Zidane on the field by calling his sister a "prostitute," and him a "terrorist." Furthermore, Materazzi knew that Zidane is ethnically Algerian. In the context of Zidane's North African racial heritage, Materazzi's insults took on the additional dimension of extremely provocative racist slurs, which explains why Zidane suddenly snapped.
There is one more fact that points to mitigating circumstances. Materazzi almost certainly stooped to the gutter level of hurling racist insults in order to provoke Zidane, thus hoping to get France's best player ejected from the game. Of course, the World Cup not only officially condemns racism but also regards any unsportsmanlike utterance of a racist slur during a game as a very serious offense. The Italian team should not have been rewarded for this ugly winning-through-racism tactic. If the referee knew that Materazzi had been using provocative racist taunts, he could not have exonerated Zidane for his retaliatory headbutt, but he should have ejected Materazzi on a red-card foul too.
Therefore, I for one was happy to learn that some ameliorative justice was done when the World Cup officials ignored Zidane's ejection for the red-card foul, and honored him anyway by awarding him the Golden Boot as the World Cup's best player.
WORLD CUP SOCCER VERSUS TRADITIONAL AMERICAN SPORTS
On Monday, the PBS "News Hour With Jim Lehrer" had an interesting segment in which the female editor of a soccer magazine debated the male editor of Sports Illustrated about two questions: "Who was the US audience that watched the World Cup?"; and "What is soccer's future in America?"
Unsurprisingly, Soccer Magazine lady was there to pump up professional soccer, whereas Sports Illustrated gentleman was there to put down the soccer uprising.
Pro-soccer woman essentially argued that the younger American adults in their early 30s and 20s grew up playing soccer, so they've become the hard-core soccer fans who watched the World Cup games (and especially the Final Game between France and Italy, which drew an unusually large American TV audience). She concluded that Americans can change enough to give professional soccer a vibrant future inside the USA. She even went so far as to predict that soccer will become at least as popular as professional hockey, even if it never rivals the NBA, NFL, or MLB.
Anti-soccer man counterargued that the unusually large TV audience during this World Cup was an anomaly that occurs once every four years. To him, the reality inside the USA is that male and female professional soccer leagues have always gone bankrupt, precisely because they lack anything approaching a sustainable fan base. He concluded that the woman's optimistic perspective is a rehash of the same "here-comes-soccer" hyperbole that he's been hearing for 30 years. HOwever, professional soccer will never have US fan support that rivals professional football, baseball, basketball, or hockey. And there you have it -- the insular mentality of the American sports world in a nutshell!
By the way, it's noteworthy that the optimistic woman appeared to be in her mid-forties and makes her money by promoting soccer, whereas the pessimistic man appeared to be in his mid-sixties and makes his money by promoting traditional American sports. Hence, their different ages and income sources have influenced their opposite beliefs that American sports fans can -- or cannot -- change enough include professional soccer.
If you ask me, billions of soccer fans aren't wrong. The game of soccer at the World Cup level was beautiful to behold. And it would be a shame if Americans were too ethnocentric to even give it a chance. Therefore, please ponder sportwriter Patrick Daugherty's insightful column because it reveals . . .
ONE GOOD REASON WHY WORLD CUP SOCCER IS BETTER THAN NFL FOOTBALL
"Due to the media information glut, I will forego World Cup references save for one thought. World Cup games begin with 45 minutes of commercial-free soccer, followed by an intermission long enough to prepare a wholesome snack, crack a beer, make a phone call, and check e-mail. This is followed by another 45 minutes of commercial-free soccer. There are no timeouts, and no commercials, during the game. None. Zero. Zip.
"Forty-five minutes between commercials, and the ABC/ESPN television executives are on their knees, praying that Americans won't notice. Since soccer is the world's game, and since the rest of the world doesn't care whether we like it or not, ABC and ESPN have zero leverage as to how the game is presented.
"Quite unlike the spineless, one-legged dog that is the National Football League. That greedy corporate puppet will do ANYTHING for money. For instance, they have allowed five commercial timeouts to be mandated during every NFL quarter. That's the NFL-guaranteed minimum. Now, add an orgy of commercials mislabeled as "halftime."
"The result is that there are about 12 minutes of action in a typical three-and-a-half-hour NFL game. The other 198 minutes are spent on penalties, injury timeouts, getting to one's feet, zombie-walking into a huddle, substitutions, change of possessions, coaches' timeouts, and . . . commercials.
"Sports-loving American television watchers, let's compare World Cup soccer to NFL football: we can get 90 minutes of soccer action completely uninterrupted by timeouts and commercials; or we can get 12 minutes of football action interspersed between interminable delays and at least 20 commercials.
"If you ask me, that's one reason why World Cup soccer is better than NFL football."
================================================== ============= FINALLY, THREE DIRECTLY-RELATED ESSAYS ARE WORTH READING:
 Dave Zirin and John Cox's 7-7-06 Common Dreams essay, "French Soccer And The Future Of Europe" [The authors explain why the significance of the French national team goes well beyond soccer by juxtaposing their many World Cup successes against the racist views of right-wing politician Jean-Marie Le Pen. To which I say: "Vive la France multicultural!"]:
 Danny Schecter's 7-6-06 Common Dreams essay, "Beyond the World Cup: Can You Feel What I Feel Today?" [Contends that we imbue athletes and sporting events with far too much significance to provide a diversion from our collective inability to solve out-of-control problems in the real world. To him, the current World Cup competition falls somewhere between another Romanesque bread-and-circus spectacle and Everyman's identification with the mythopoetic journey of his nation's heroes.]:
 Branko Milanovic's 7-6-06 Tom Paine essay, "World Cup Economics: The Movement Of International Soccer Players Is A Good Example Of Globalization's Effects" [Compares labor movements among soccer players during highly-regulated World Cup competition to their unregulated movement afterwards during national league play. However, his proposed solution to correct globalization's "brain drain" is pragmatically unworkable due to capitalist greed, for the benefiting developed nations will never agree to pay immigrant laborers to return to their underdeveloped homelands for one year of pro bono publico work, and the immigrant laborers most certainly cannot afford to finance such a trip by themselves.]:
July 12, 2006 By: Joe American