I don’t always agree with (or read, for that matter) Gabriele Marcotti. Actually, I think I’ve only read one of his pieces before, following Arsenal’s defeat in the Champions League and heaven knows that was an event to move past as quickly as possible. This piece, however, neatly sums up the mixed feelings I’ve had over the Zidane-Materazzi debaucle.
As much as one wants, following an incident such as that, to sit back and wait for some indication of what really happened, it is physically impossible (short of boycotting all sports media) to not read news of the latest rumor masquerading as The Word of The Football Gods.
It has bothered me from the start that everyone, including me, immediately assumed that Matrix must have seriously provoked Zizou for him to have such a strong reaction. After expressing this to my husband, he turned to me and said, in that sort of exasperated Obi-Wan way he has, “Does it really matter what he said? Why does it have to be racial?”
Busted. I fell into the trap that has closed around so many people–Zizou is Zizou. Who the hell is Materazzi?
The truth is that everyone was ready to blame the victim. Maybe because we’ve been so ingrained to distrust Italian football following the scandals. Maybe because it was wonderful to see the French team rise above statements of bigotry made by Le Pen and general doubt about their fitness and age (and early Cup play.) I don’t know, and frankly I really don’t care. I read on message boards such widely-varying reasons as Italians are racists, Materazzi is an erratic player, the Italians were cheating (what?) and Materazzi is an animal because he tackles hard.
Well, of course, there are racists in Italy as there are in every corner of the world. This hardly means that all Italians are racists, any more than the existence of the KKK means that all Americans are racists. An erratic player? Maybe with Inter, but in this Cup, Materazzi proved he deserved his place on the team. An animal for going in hard on people? Would anyone say this about Michael Essien and not get massacred?
No, it was easier to call Matrix names than to admit that Zidane might have been out of line. And he was out of line, no matter what was said to him. He let his team down when they needed their talisman the most, and while they may have lost anyway, at least we would be talking about the remarkable play of all but ten minutes of the game rather than this one incident.
A little background from my perspective. I went into the game torn as to who I wanted to win. I love both teams and finally decided that I just wanted to see good football. I was not disappointed. For the first time in the tournament, I was happy to see extra time because I was simply not ready for the match to end. And then the Head of Zizou turned excitement to disbelief. I will remember, as much as the Italians celebrating the victory they fairly won, the image of Lillian Thuram with tears running down his face being consoled by the limping Patrick Vieira. Thuram deserved more from Zidane. Vieira, Sagnol, Ribery, Henry, poor Trezueguet. They all deserved more.
And in the aftermath of Zidane’s violent act and the wild speculation about what could make him do such a thing, Materazzi deserves more. He deserves an apology for being called so many horrible things. Without it we run the risk of building another footballer into an untouchable hero at the expense of the guys who play hard for their teams without the glory.
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