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A suspension for talking trash? Mamma mia!
Posted: July 21, 2006

If you weren't already glad Michael Jordan chose to play basketball instead of soccer, you should be now.

Jordan became the greatest basketball player in history ever and can go toe-to-toe with Pele as the best player in any team sport.

If Jordan had played soccer, though, he might have been suspended every other match. Jordan was a trash-talker, you see. The folks who run the soccer world, FIFA, have decided trash talk does not belong in their game.

This week, they suspended France midfielder Zinedine Zidane for three international matches for viciously head-butting Italy defender Marco Materazzi in the World Cup final. But they didn't stop there. They smacked Materazzi with a two-match ban for instigating the assault with on-field insults.

Now, I am no great fan of the childish pursuit of trash-talking. I think athletes could and should be above it. I think it can be counterproductive when it motivates an athlete toward a better performance. But I am a pragmatist.

For FIFA to suspend a player for what is said during the heat of competition - unless the insult is racist in nature - is ridiculous. Because the only way that can be justified is if every player is forced to wear a microphone and there are 22 backstage technicians examining their conversations for offensive material.

In essence, Materazzi has been suspended because Zidane acted like an idiot. Zidane should have been concentrating on trying to secure the world's greatest sporting title for his team and his nation. Instead, he was worried about petty insults about his family. Whatever Materazzi said, however tasteless it was, the remarks were empty. But because Zidane acted on them, Materazzi and his team will pay.

It is not a small price, either. The two matches Materazzi is scheduled to miss are part of qualifying this fall for the Euro 2008 championship. The European championship is the world's No. 2 international tournament. If Materazzi's absence contributes to an unfavorable qualifying result for Italy, how just will that be?

FIFA has not done well by its sport subsequent to the World Cup final. Awarding Zidane the Gold Ball for most outstanding player was atrocious, whatever the voting results might have indicated. Making him out to be a victim here is all the more embarrassing.

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tarnsman on Fri Jul 21, 2006 03:04 pm
So what? Just because the rest of the world can't play football, why should we care what happens to soccer players in France and Italy. The lack of interest in the game itself and the World Cup--coupled with our national team who choked like a mosquito swallowing a bowling ball, makes any suspension of any soccer player anywhere a non-event. Just like the World Cup was a non-event here. Don't think soccer is irrelevant here? Check your local TV guide. Check in again in four years when all the sports gurus will tell us how important the World Cup is to America, blah, blah, blah. To paraphrase an old radio show, "Taint so DeCourcy." And it never was.
blalockhf on Fri Jul 21, 2006 03:06 pm
You are certainly welcome to your opinion on FIFA's punishment - FIFA often gets it wrong so they make for an easy target. If you think that Zidane should not have been awarded the Golden Ball because of that incident then you demonstrate your lack of understanding when it comes to soccer. The other candidate, Cannavaro (the Italian captain) was excellent, but he had plenty of help from teammates (Buffon, Totti, etc). Zidane, in contrast, singelhandedly put an inferior French squad on his back and carried them to the finals. To deny him the award because if his outburst would tarnish the award in the eyes of all soccer fans who know the best player was at this World Cup was Zidane.

I think that it is right and proper to punish the players with suspensions after the fact, as well as punish Zidane (with a red card) during the game. Zidane was certainly wrong to react, but two wrongs do not make a right. By suspending Materazzi they are sending a message that you cannot run around the pitch baiting opponents with vile insults trying to get a reaction that sends the other player off. If this were allowed, any shred of civility on the field would be gone. You can't punish every trash talker, you are right, but you can punish those whose words lead to fisticuffs. FIFA investigated, they know what Materazzi said throughout the course of the game, and it must have been vile enough to warrant punishment.

No, I'm not French nor was I cheering for the French. I just think that both acts were deserving of punishment and FIFA got this one right for once. Both punishments equate to a slap on the wrist, which is probably a just result for this overblown incident.
Were you on a desert island in June?
mdecourcy.tsn on Fri Jul 21, 2006 03:10 pm
Tarnsman, the World Cup final drew a U.S. audience of 16.9 million -- better than the average for the NBA Finals, darn close to what the White Sox/Astros World Series averaged.
Must be pretty important somewhere in this country if all those people were watching.
As for Zidane carrying an inferior French squad -- Zidane's earlier behavior got him excluded from the pivotal third match in group stage, which France had to win in order to qualify for the knockout rounds. Zidane was brilliant in the Brazil game, but France's best player throughout was defender Lilian Thuram.
You DO NOT get to be MVP or most outstanding player if your petulant behavior gets you thrown out of the decisive match. Period. The voters who cast their ballots for Zidane subsequent to that event shamed a great game.
gforce71 on Fri Jul 21, 2006 03:11 pm
I agree with all you said in your article! I have never been a Materazzi fun, but I think that this time FIFA have made a shamble by giving the two players almost the same punishment. Somebody should protest about it firmly, because we risk to end up with people being beaten up or seriously injured and it will be justified because it was provoked! Was it because Materazzi is Italian? Should have been Materazzi to headbutt Zidan, would he have received the same treatment? I'm not sure! When Totti was insulted, pulled and bullied for the whole game in Portugal 2002, when he reacted ( spitting), he was labelled as a criminal and disqualified for the rest of the tournament. He never went on tv crying about being insulted. The Matarazzi - Zidane has been a great injustice and should be changed for the sake of soccer and it's funs!
Thank you!
temper6 on Fri Jul 21, 2006 03:29 pm
tarnsman, you apparently don't know the attitudes of all the people in the United States. I watched the games. Most of my friends watched the games. Everyone at my place of employment watched the games and discussed them daily. What does this have anything to do with American football? Absolutely nothing. How can you claim that the US team choked? Did you watch the games to know what happened? Unlikely.
Re: Were you on a desert island in June?
blalockhf on Fri Jul 21, 2006 04:13 pm
mdecourcy.tsn wrote:
You DO NOT get to be MVP or most outstanding player if your petulant behavior gets you thrown out of the decisive match. Period. The voters who cast their ballots for Zidane subsequent to that event shamed a great game.

If you say so. I disagree. Thuram had an excellent tournament and was the man of the match against Portugal, but Zidane was the best player on the pitch against Spain, Brazil, and Italy and totally controlled the flow of the game like no other player at this tournament. I also think that there is about a 5% chance that his red card changed the outcome of the game. Italy threw their whole team behind the ball to play for a shootout, as I would do if Buffon were my keeper and Barthez were playing for the other side. Italy could have taken 100 PKs and he wouldn't have stopped one, Buffon would have eventually saved one if the French hadn't missed themselves.

I see no shame in voting for Zidane, and I would have done the same if given a ballot.
dunjo04 on Fri Jul 21, 2006 04:31 pm
The World Cup makes the Super Bowl seem like a tiddlywinks competition. And by the way how about changing the name of the American game - to handball or something similar. I mean what does it have to with the "foot" - nothing!
WC ratings were way up this year and will continue to rise. I sense defensiveness on the part of the fans of the American sport...watch out we're coming up behind you!!!
Suspension for talking trash
soccerfairplay on Fri Jul 21, 2006 08:23 pm
Mike DeCourcy’s comments on the Zidane/Materazzi/FIFA situation are unfortunate and shallow.

Basically two wrongs do not make a right, but they do make two wrongs. It is not Zidane vs. Materazzi, it is Zidane AND Materazzi who were both wrong.

No one would contend that what Zidane did was right, that he should not have suffered the consequences, that he did not hurt his team’s chances of winning and that in the process he let down all of his fans, young and old, his teammates, manager, all of those involved in the French Soccer Federation, his nation, FIFA, and in fact the game of soccer itself (a game which he respected and elevated, not diminished, through his career) as well as all those who believe in the beauty and integrity of sport. No one would contend given Zidane’s history and stature that he did not make a horrendous personal mistake (as DeCourcy so artfully put it “acted like an idiot”). This is what he did and this was wrong. If DeCourcy wants to contend that Zidane should have lost his award for being the best player in the World Cup – then he should make the point, I would listen. But this is not what he has done.

The second wrong (not necessarily in order of occurrence) was committed by Materazzi – and it was wrong. FIFA’s Laws of the Game emphasize fair play and specifically provide that a player is sent off (given a red card) if he uses offensive or insulting or abusive language.

Below are the main pieces of DeCourcy’s article (in quotes), followed by my comments:

“For FIFA to suspend a player for what is said during the heat of competition - unless the insult is racist in nature - is ridiculous.”
Here are my questions to DeCourcy: does he know of the Laws of the Game, has he read them? Apparently it is permissible to make “sexist” comments as long as they are not “racist”?

“Whatever Materazzi said, however tasteless it was, the remarks were empty.”
Does this imply that Zidane feigned lack of control upon hearing the language and headbutted Materazzi so he could get Materazzi possibly suspended (albeit at the sacrifice of France’s possible victory in the World Cup)? Does this imply that Materazzi was an inept trash talker – perhaps this is what DeCourcy would penalize him for? It seems to me that objectively they were anything but “empty”–in fact having absolutely nothing to with the actual “playing” of the game while directly affecting the outcome of the World Cup final. In the context of the actual sport of soccer and fair play I agree they were as empty, vile and heinous as the Zidane headbutt.

“Because the only way that can be justified is if every player is forced to wear a microphone and there are 22 backstage technicians examining their conversations for offensive material.”
I think this is a “ridiculous” comment. I do not know of a major sport (perhaps golf comes closest) where every rule violation is observed or enforced in every instance. Basketball? Football? Nor do I know of a sport where clear and known, major (red-cardable category) violations are permitted and condoned (with the exception of hockey¬–what does it take to get thrown out of a hockey game, a gun?).

The difference between what DeCourcy would have done and what FIFA did is clear:
“Now, I am no great fan of the childish pursuit of trash-talking….But I am a pragmatist.” This is compared to: “FIFA, have decided trash talk does not belong in their game.”
I really don’t think DeCourcy knows what he is saying when he uses the world “childish.” FIFA long ago decided that offensive, insulting, and abusive language does not belong in soccer and in fair play. I have been to hundreds of youth (through high school) soccer games and I can assure you that it is very, very rare to hear such language directed at another player or the referee. And in nearly every instance, when it occurs, it is dealt with appropriately and directly – it is not condoned or implicitly permitted as part of the game. Of course as a pragmatist DeCourcy would have just concluded this was part of the “heat of competition” and looked the other way, whereas FIFA actually attempts to protect the integrity of a game and sport based on fair play. Perhaps Michael Jordan would not have been a trash-talker if he played soccer because the rules would have been enforced – I certainly don’t think he needed it to accomplish what he did.

As for DeCourcy I suggest he send his Resume to Bud Selig, I’m sure he’s always looking for a few good pragmatists.
Good Article
commandoerikBlog on Fri Jul 21, 2006 09:35 pm
I completely agree with DeCourcy's comments. Zidane essentially didn't get punished. He's retired and 6000 swiss francs are peanuts to him. So essentially what has transpired is Zidane is getting off scott free and FIFA is punishing Materazzi for being headbutted after a little trash talk. Zidane and Materazzi both said the things said weren't rascist. So to suspend Materazzi for a little trash talk is absurd. Why not penalize divers with supensions (like Cristiano Ronaldo)? It makes much more sense than suspending people for trash talk. Who's to say Henry wasn't talking trash to an opponent at some point? This was a dumb judgement by FIFA and it seems like they want to brush off the headbutt because Zidane was a legend. Every sport has trash-talk, and to say it is not tolerated in soccer is nuts because, short of using mics on all the players, there's no way of enforcing a trash-talk ban as mentioned in the article. FIFA dropped the ball making Zidane seem to be in the right and that is a sad sight.
mdecourcy.tsn on Sat Jul 22, 2006 09:41 am
Why were the insults empty? Because one cannot insult someone he does not know. Whatever vulgar comments you might make about my wife or my sister or whomever, I know that you do not know her or her character and so I would laugh them off and go on about my business.
The laws of the game also prohibit diving.
How'd FIFA do at the World Cup at upholding that?
Again, the only reason Materazzi was punished is because Zidane affronted him. That's no way to run a sport.
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