Monday, July 17, 2006

Do the Right Thing

I was weak, I tried to be nice, tried rationality with a disagreeable right-wing arrogant San Diego columnist because he had said something nice about a friend of mine. Fucking stupid of me. Materazzi (the guy who Zidane head-butted) is known to my Italian friends as "a rugby player." I should have stayed dirty and profane with Nick Canepa. Stay the course America. We need to kill more people so that we can gain the world's respect.

Here's the actually spew, his response and my retort. I love Italians, just not this piece of shit.


I spent my lunch with an Italian. He says Materazzi is a dirtbag, and he won 8 grand on Italy. Churchill said that he loved Americans because they always do the right thing. After they have tried everything else. Keep trying! wrote:

My freaking name,

I don't know if you could be more wrong, but you're probably close.

Thanks for writing,


-----Original Message-----

Sent: Mon 7/17/2006 9:57 AMTo: Canepa, Nick

Subject: Right and Wrong

Mr. Canepa,

I waited a good 24 hours to cool down after your Zidane piece. And I also wanted to be fair and to thank you for doing the Ultimate column on my friend Jim Herrick. He, in my mind, is the embodiment of a sportsman, someone who plays for the love of his game and who as long as I have known him as always been both a fierce competitor and a class act. Again, thank you for taking him seriously. Ultimate is a good sport, with a long history in this country. And its a sport Americans can be proud of.

On the negative side, and of course you knew this was coming, I am always disheartened when someone as respectable as yourself misses the mark so widely on an issue that could provide for your audience what we like to call in the corporate world as "a teachable moment." Zidane's act was something that many on this side of the Atlantic percieved as a clear sign of moral failure, something that was just not understandable given the situation. But did you bother to research the Italian player he fouled, the history of the man himself, or even get your local baseball contact Gwynn to use an analogous situation in his career (which he may never have had actually) to contextualize what Zidane did? No. You took the easy way out to my mind (and writing as many columns as you do for as long as you have certainly gives you a pass if you wish to take it) and just went along with the crowd who think that there could be nothing to justify Zidane's actions. Sports are great when they give us a chance to be our best and honor our finest ideals. But sports are not the meaning of life, they only reflect and enhance it. And if, and this could be too big an if, Materazzi did use racial and familial taunts at that moment in a World Cup that many feared could be damaged by white supremacists "fans" could this context change the meaning of what took place?

The German replay of the incident in the stadium would not have taken place in Petco. Tony Gwynn, was he ever called the n-word during game seven of the World Series by a catcher before a two-strike pitch with the winning run on third? You can read the Dave Zirin piece below if you like and tell me that he's just a biased lefty hack but you didn't even ask the right questions. He did. That you didn't is a shame.

If nothing else, know that among your peers, even though I disagree with much of what you write about and the ideological perspective that bleeds through your pieces, I admire your professionalism. In fact, you are the only columnist I regularly read in the UT. Some day I hope to live in a city with a world reknown newspaper. Since I was born in raised in Santa Barbara, I know that should I ever move back, it won't happen there . . .

Respectfully, My freaking name

Confronting Racism, Head On Why I Wear My Zidane Jersey

Imagine Michael Jordan in his last game, with the score tied in overtime, knocking out his defender with a punch to the throat. Imagine Derek Jeter in game seven of the World Series, at bat with the bases loaded, thrashing the opposing team's catcher over the head with his bat. Our collective shock would only be exceeded by disappointment. No one, fan or foe, would want to a see a great player end their career in an act that speaks to the worst impulses of sports: when hard competition spills over into violence. Now imagine if Jordan and Jeter claimed they were provoked with a racial slur. Does their violence become understandable? Even excusable?

Herein lies the case of French National team captain, the great Zinedine Zidane. Zidane, competing in his last professional match, was kicked out of the World Cup final in overtime for flattening Italian player Marco Materazzi with the head-butt heard around the world. Zidane, or Zissou as he is known, became the first captain ever ejected from a World Cup championship match. The announcers denounced Zissou for committing a "classless act and the French team withered, eventually losing to a demonstrably inferior Italian squad in overtime. The following morning the international tabloids with their typical grace, gave Zissou a new nickname: "butt-head. Less examined was the fact that Zissou was literally carrying a lightly regarded French team to the finals. Less examined was the fact that Zissou had been grabbed, kicked, and fouled all game by the vaunted Italian defense. Less examined was the fact that Zissou had almost left minutes earlier due to injury, his arm wilting off his shoulder like a wet leaf of spinach. This unholy amount of pressure is the primary reason the 34-year-old veteran snapped and planted Materazzi into the pitch.

Now the great mystery is what set Zissou off. What could Materazzi have possibly said to send him over the edge? Answers are beginning to filter out. According to a FIFA employee transcribing what was said during the match, Materazzi,s called Zissou a "big Algerian shit. A Brazilian television program that claims to have used a lip-reader said Materazzi called Zissou,s sister "a whore. The highly respected French anti-racist coalition SOS Racisme issued a press release stating, "According to several very well informed sources from the world of football, it would seem [Materazzi] called Zissou a 'dirty terrorist'." Materazzi, in an answer that can only be called Clintonian, said, "It is absolutely not true. I didn't call him a terrorist. Of course he didn,t comment on what he did call him. Zissou himself has only said cryptically that he would reveal what Materazzi said "in the coming days."

Right now, we do not know beyond a shadow of a doubt what was said but all the circumstantial evidence points at least toward a variant of SOS Racisme's claim. Zissou is the son of Algerian immigrants who has sparred verbally with Europe's far-right political machine for more than a decade. He is an outspoken anti-racist on a team that has defined itself by its multiculturalism and stubborn insistence to stand up against bigotry both inside and outside the sport. Materazzi on the other hand, will be playing this year for the Italian team Lazio, where his father was the former coach. Lazio's fan club, The Ultras, are notorious for their Fascist-friendly politics. Lazio's hardcore Ultras, known as the "Irriducibili," have members in Italy's extra-parliamentary far right and try to use the club to recruit. The group has frequently uses racist and anti-Semitic banners, one time hanging a 50-foot banner that said their opponents were a "team of niggers."

It's wrong to taint Materazzi for the actions of Lazio's fans, but there is more. Earlier this season in a match that pitted Messina against Inter in Sicily, Messina's star African player Marc Zoro famously picked up the ball and walked off the pitch in protest of the monkey chants rained upon him by Inter supporters. In a stirring act of solidarity, many of the Inter players immediately showed support for Zoro's actions. But one opponent yelled, "Stop that, Zoro, you're just trying to make a name for yourself." That opponent's name was Marco Materazzi.

At the start of this tournament I wrote a soccer column with my colleague John Cox, called Racism Stalks the Cup. We expressed our concern that the monkey chants, banana peels, and peanuts raining down on African players this year would continue on the sport's grandest stage. This largely did not occur. But then in the final act, at the moment of most exquisite tension, it seems racism may have actually emerged from the shadows. I, for one, am damn glad that when it did, it ran smack into Zissou's beautiful head.

We don't know with iron certainty what Materazzi said, but if it turns out to be more of the anti-Black, anti-Muslim, garbage that has infected soccer like a virus, the Italian team should forfeit the cup. They should voluntarily give the greatest trophy of them all back to FIFA as a statement that some things in this world are more important than sports. Racism will be the death of soccer if things don't change. Italy can set the sport back on course, with one simple, stunning gesture. Give the damn thing back.

Dave Zirin is the author of "'What's My name Fool?': Sports and Resistance in the United States." Contact him at

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