A: They were very serious things, very personal things.
Q About your mother and your sister?
A: Yes. They were very hard words. You hear them once and you try to move away.
But then you hear them twice, and then a third time... I am a man and some words are harder to hear than actions. I would rather have taken a blow to the face than hear that.
Soccer fans will know what the above snippet of conversation refers to. It's just an effort to dissect an infamous moment of impulsiveness as was demonstrated by the legendary Zinedine Zidane, the former French football captain. The occasion, an important one—the finals of the World Cup—acquired a greater degree of relevance since it was also the last time Zidane was being seen on the professional soccer field. The man, loved by fans and soccer players across the world, must have dreamed of making the finals an enduring swan song, possibly with him lifting the coveted trophy. That was not to be.
A brief provocation, resulting in one of the most aggressive physical outbursts altered the course of the match once and for all. Minutes before the final game would slip into penalty shoot outs, the French maestro delivered a savage headbutt to his Italian opponent, Marco Materazzi. There was no way Zidane could have escaped a red card. As he exited the field, ignominy and a red blot on career accompanying him, French fans knew, the game could have a radically different outcome. Suffices to say, Zidane was aware of the results of his action himself. Yet, apparently, he couldn't restrain himself. As for Materazzi, who is believed to have pushed the Frenchman to limits by making offensive remarks about his mother and sister, the desired effect—to distract Zidane in a game-altering way—was superbly achieved.
I first became familiar with sledging while watching live telecasts cricket matches, the sport that makes
Cricket, slightly similar to baseball, is a contest between batsmen and bowlers. You would occasionally see a bowler making remarks at the batsman, trying to distract and provoke him. A lot of batsmen tend to retort, some look the other way, and a few really smart ones, whack the ball to the boundary at the next delivery. There's no microphone attached to the shirts of the players, and what they say isn't ever audible to the audience or the commentators. Much the same as what happened between Materazzi and Zidane. The only way one would learn about the actual exchange of words was to rely on the players' version once the game was over.
So what exactly do players say to opponents to crack their psyche? Here's a random sampling from the world of cricket sledging:
Australian pace bowler Glenn McGrath to Zimbabwean Eddo Brandes after Brandes had played and missed at a McGrath delivery: "Oi, Brandes, why are you so f*****g fat?" to which Brandes replied: "Cos every time I f*** your wife she gives me a biscuit!" Apparently even the Australian slips were in hysterics.
In the 1980's Ian Botham returned early from a tour of
Perhaps the most famous sledge is reported to have taken place during the epic World Cup Super Six clash between Australia and South Africa.
I find it somewhat unfair that while physical outbursts such as the one Zidane displayed are reason enough to penalize the player, verbal assaults, carried out repeatedly in the course of the play mostly go unheeded. This is not to condone physical attacks by the way. That's not done, and Zidane himself admitted that, apologizing to any children watching the game. However, is it a fair deal for players to use racial slurs (Zidane has been at the receiving end of such taunts throughout his career because of his Algerian roots) or tasteless personal insults to the point of provoking the opponent to extreme physical reaction? Not in my book. A little banter here and there never harmed anyone, but insults directed at one’s family or place of origin are downright offensive and unforgivable as far as I am concerned.
Isn't it ironical that while children are taught to cut back on swearing and verbal abuses all the time, adults get away with those same things on the sporting field? Agreed Zidane didn't set up such a fine example for budding soccer players, but did Materazzi set a better example either?
Why expend so much energy when even a glare followed by a real smart sporting move can do the trick?