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Comments by YACCS
Wednesday, July 12, 2006

About that headbutt

This is from Majikthise

Pourquoi, Zizou?

No doubt hundreds of millions of people are asking the same question: Why did the French team captain Zinedine Zidane viciously headbutt Marco Materazzi? We still don't know what Materazzi said to Zidane. One rumor is that Materazzi insulted Zidane's dying mother. Others suggest that the Italian made a racist comment about Zidane's Algerian heritage. Materazzi may have called Zizou "a terrorist".

Abbas Raza argues that only a particularly vile racial slur could explain Zidane's behavior. Abbas thinks it's unlikely that a seasoned player like Zizou would have lost his cool over something as trite as yo' mamma trashtalk.

Abbas explains very eloquently why a racist taunt would be so uniquely hurtful and infuriating:

But second, and more important, for an insult to really injure its victim there must be an asymmetry preventing the person from just yelling the insult back. It is then, when the person insulted feels he cannot reply, that he replies physically. And this is exactly what racist insults do. If a white man yells the N-word at a black man, there is no equivalent word that the black man can yell back. By using this word, the white man is essentially taunting the black man by reminding him of the abuse that he, his ancestors, his whole race have have to endure at the white man's hand, and how he is impotent to stop it. It is like someone taunting you that he raped your mother, and you knowing that it's true! History denies the black man the opportunity of responding in kind, and the only choice left may seem to be to demonstrate that one is not so impotent after all, that one can hit back. This, that it relies on a history of oppression and injury, and on asymmetrical relations of power, is what is so insidious about racial insult, and why we are so careful to avoid its double-injustice in decent society.

Abbas supplies a coherent rationale for especially tough action by FIFA against race-baiters on the field and in the stands. Within the context of international soccer, racial taunts are much more serious than the usual sports-related verbal abuse that people use to psych out their opponents.

I'm not sure what FIFA can do about Materazzi at this point, or about inaudible racial slurs in general. As far as the game is concerned, if the ref doesn't hear it, it didn't happen. Zero tolerance for racial taunts that the refs do hear would be a good start.

Fans need to put pressure on corporate sponsors who give lucrative endorsements to known race-baiters.

I am convinced by Abbas's argument that a racist taunt from Materazzi would have been an incredibly low blow and an especially serious provocation for Zidane. However, I don't see how a verbal assault of any kind, no matter how reprehensible, can excuse a high-level professional athlete who assaults a fellow player during a critical match.

Am I excusing Zidane? If he was racially insulted, yes I am. Zidane could not help himself under the circumstances. I would excuse Zidane for the same reason that a prosecutor will, under certain circumstances, decline to bring charges against a man who comes home to find his wife in bed with her lover and, in a moment of temporary insanity, kills him. In this, there is an acknowledgment that there is not always a right and wrong in everything. Sometimes, a man loses rationality. That is just human nature. Deal with it. (Or hate all men.)

Provocation is at best a mitigating factor. If an individual becomes so enraged as to lose control of their rationality, then they are less culpable than a cold-blooded assailant, but they are nevertheless culpable. If you catch your spouse cheating on you, you have a right to be furious, but you don't have a right to physically assault anyone. If you do lose control and hurt someone, it's your fault for not having better self-control. The same goes for Zidane.

I don't hate Zidane, let alone all men. However, mitigation is not exculpation. Being the wronged party doesn't give you unlimited latitude to take whatever revenge you want. We've all got darker impulses and we've all got to work to control them. It's the work of a lifetime, but as Dan Dennett has argued repeatedly, the important thing is to cultivate your self-control "offline" so that you have the right instinctive reactions at the critical moment. To the extent that you know your temper is an issue but fail to achieve mastery over it, you are morally culpable for your split-second fits of pique.

If you are a professional athlete in a racially-charged sport, part of your training is to learn to anticipate and ignore racial taunts. If you're less than perfectly thick-skinned, you're failing as an athlete because you're creating a gaping psychological vulnerability that is easy for your opponents to exploit.

Abbas seems to be arguing that some insults are so shocking that nobody could be expected to keep their cool. I disagree. Zidane has endured taunts in the past. Plenty of spouses have found their partners in compromising situations and not killed anyone. Sure, a vicious shock to the system brings out the worst in some people, but not everyone, not even in the same person at different times.

Zidane's fans have every right to criticize him for losing his cool on the field. The headbutt was truly a sad end to an illustrious career.

It's really simple why Lindsay doesn't understand, really can't understand. She's not a minority man .

Even if someone called her a cunt during a fight, that may be deeply offensive to her, but she's not going to hit someone.

Zidane is a human being, and while he can get pissed off about play on the field, that was an insult to the man. Nothing else could get that reaction. When someone denies your humanity in front of your face, which is what a racial slur is, self-control is nice if you get to think about it. But when you bait someone so offensively, and I'm convinced that is what happened, and there's a response, that's what happens.

In a perfect world, he might have had better self-control, but when you've been called a dirty Arab from childhood, there is only so much shit you're gonna take from someone as a man.

Notice how he hasn't apologized, hasn't been asked to apologize and then won the Golden Boot. That wouldn't have happened unless there was a feeling that he was the wronged party. In the US, there's been shock, but in France, it's widely accepted he was a victim of race baiting.

He also hasn't explained what happened yet, which shows an amazing amount of class. He didn't taint the Italian victory as they won. But it's clear that what was said will come out and Italy will not look good.

Race is a real issue in Southern European football and has been for a while . When the English played in Spain, their black players were racially taunted. So it's hardly a surprise here.

In the end, it's about respect. There is only so much disrespect a minority man will accept in his life and Zidane decided not be disrespected. It wasn't the best choice, or the right choice, but there's only so much crap one can take in life.

posted by Steve @ 2:05:00 AM

2:05:00 AM

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