Why Zidane's 'Disgrace' Earned My Respect
By Mark Schurmann

Editor's Note: As Zinedine Zidane finally speaks about his head-butting of an Italian player that may have cost France the World Cup, NAM commentator Mark Schurmann says it was precisely that incident that made him and many other Americans begin to root for France. Schurmann is a writer for New America Media.

Zidane's finally talked to the media. The French soccer star apologized to "the children" for head-butting Italy's Marco Matterazzi but expressed no regret. "I would rather be punched in the jaw than have heard that," he said, claiming Matterazzi insulted his mother. His action may have cost France the title, but it galvanized Americans like myself, giving us a moment, a player and a team to relate to in a game we barely understand.
"Would you let a punk talk to you like that?" a young colleague asks me, in reference to the incident.
The World Cup finale was a one-sided affair for me for most of the game. I saw it with my oldest friend, an Italian-American, and his family. I thought in a soccer match between French and Italian, I was Italian by virtue of an old and strong friendship. But by game's end, it was the red, white and blue of France that I cheered for, not because of their play on the field, but because of the emotional outburst and violent reaction of their best player.
Zinedane Zidane might have disgraced himself in the eyes of seasoned soccer fans around the world, yet I couldn't help but feel a surge of empathy for him and his team as I watched him walk off the field after receiving a red card from the referee.
On the way home I called my brother and asked him what he thought of the game.
"I had been rooting for Italy most of the time, but I started rooting for France when Zidane was kicked off. Sometimes you just want to see a guy put it all aside and say 'Damn the World Cup, you can't say that to me!' After that I wanted France to win it for Zidane."
As Americans, my brother and I are not veteran soccer fans. After the US team made an early exit, we had no vested interest in any team other than the imagined similarities we could think of. Root for Ghana because they're underdogs. Root for Mexico because they're our neighbors. Root for England because we speak the same language.
In the end, however, it wasn't a team we identified with but an individual, someone caught up in the heat of the moment and in his own raw emotions. I don't know what was said between Zidane and Matterazzi, but there is a line that can be crossed and I think the Italian must have crossed it.
Soon after talking to my brother, I received a call from a close friend. He, too, had watched the game cheering for the Italians, but changed his mind as soon Zidane received the red card.
"I wanted France to win. With a man down, France turned into the underdog. But beyond that, when Zidane head-butted Matterazzi, he flipped the script on people. In the last and biggest game of his career he ended up showing people his humanity. What happened on the field was settled on the field."
I've lost jobs because of things I've done and said in the heat of the moment and in response to verbal abuse. I'm never proud when I lose my cool, and I've always regretted the loss of a job -- as all job seekers know, jobs can be extremely difficult to come by. Yet in retrospect, I know that I protected something in myself when I ignored the rules, ignored authority and gave as good as I got, no matter the stakes.
The morning after a young co-worker was asked by one of our editors what he thought of the game.
"I wanted Italy to win at first, but when Zidane did what he did, I changed my mind. It was an example of admirable rage. I could identify with it. He showed the kind of courage I wish I would have if someone said something that insulting to me. I know people are talking about dignity and sportsmanship, but I think Zidane illustrates rather than contradicts it."
Is this an American reaction? How many other Americans out there feel the same way? The sports media and chat rooms on the net are full of people weighing in on Zidane's action, or reaction, depending on how one sees it. Some support him, some don't and some are using the incident to spit out the grossest of racial epithets.
Deep down, I think it is a quintessential American reaction to push back. Discretion is the better part of valor, but memories last, and so does the regret that can come when we turn our back on the people who disrespect us. It is a sentiment that isn't always right, but one that we can relate to.
Kobe, an ESPN chat room writer, said, "Good show Zidane, you are always welcome in America. All the flopping and limping you were doing after your shoulder injury is all forgotten. That was an awesome header. You have given America good reason to respect France." - New America Media


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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