'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.
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
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
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