Prior to the birth of our son, Rebecca and I had considered, at my request, “Zidane” as a middle name. What would have happened on July 9, 2006 if we had agreed?
By now, we’ve all seen what happened in the final minutes of overtime of the World Cup final. My immediate reaction was two-pronged. The headbutt was horrendous, magnified by the fact that this act took place on the world stage. Those of us at Sparky’s looked at each other in disbelief. Did he really just do that? I received a text message from Rebecca — “I’m glad we didn’t name the baby ‘Zidane'”. Within thirty seconds, however, I turned to my friends and said, “He was provoked.”
In the days since the final, the world waited for Zidane to explain. What was said? We still don’t have an answer. The Italian player, Marco Materazzi, has admitted to saying something, the kind of thing players “say all the time” to each other. Looking at this nice video compilation of Materazzi’s viciousness certainly doesn’t make me believe a word he says.
Zidane, in his own press conference, was equally vague, saying only that Materazzi had mentioned both his mother and sister. Still, no details. The problem is that repeating what was said on the field puts a private act (conversations between players on the field) into the public sphere. Yes, it’s already happening in some sports when networks “mike” players for the benefit of fans. But what is it that Zidane and Materazzi don’t want us to know? That football superstars are the same as the rest of us? That perhaps they are less mannered? Or is it that neither wants to break some sort of code between players? Maybe it’s just between men.
It doesn’t matter. I don’t care to hear the discussion about whether insulting someone’s mother justifies a headbutt. When I think of Zidane, I remember seeing him play in 1998 and watching, fascinated, at how much in control of the ball he was. Talk about center of gravity, the man spun on his own axis more deftly than anyone I’d ever seen. He doesn’t say much, he doesn’t flop, he sweats a ton, and you can tell he gets into some sort of zone. I don’t pretend that I could ever know anything true about him, and I don’t want to. He’s one of the few athletes I just appreciate and admire, because I can make up my own ideas about him, and somehow he finds a way, through his play, to prove my theories right, no matter how crazy.
But now everyone has a theory about him. There’s no mystery. We have words and a reaction. I don’t need to know what was said to him and I don’t care. I already know.