A Different Look At The Headbutt Heard Round The World

by Trevor Freeman

It was a Thursday night affair against a nationally ranked Princeton squad.  While unranked, we had hung tough and were down only two midway through the third quarter.  Beating Princeton at Princeton would have been a huge feather in the cap of Fordham water polo.  A win there and perhaps our name starts getting mentioned as a top twenty caliber ballclub.  
I played 2 meter offense for Fordham.  It is the equivalent of playing point guard in basketball or quarterback in football.  It is the most important offensive position in the pool.  The kid guarding me was a former high school All-American whom I had always thought was kind of a punk.  All game long he had been reminding me about how Princeton was an Ivy League school and Fordham wasn’t.  At the same time, I complimented him on his girlfriend’s ability to…..ummm….cram a full stick of salami in her throat/esophagus.  It went back and forth.  Finally after he punched me in the kidney underwater, I snapped.  I waited for the ball to go ahead of me on a counterattack (water polo equivalent of basketball fast break).  I looked both ways to see if there were any refs around.  When I saw there was none……..I grabbed him by the back of the head with my left hand and pulled him into a right hand punch which landed square in the mouth.  Unfortunately………I wasn’t careful enough, because a referee did happen to look over and immediately ejected me from the game.  My team had to play down a man for the final quarter and a half and we lost.  

Why do I tell this story?  Because I think the entire media has been a tad bit hypocritical when talking about the headbutt Zinedine Zidane put on Marco Matarrazzi.  It wasn’t “thuggish” and it wasn’t a “tantrum”.  It was just a guy trying to lay a shot on somebody else and hoping he wouldn’t get caught by the refs.  Was it wrong?  Of course.  But it was wrong in the sense that he got caught and it was wrong in the sense that he slightly hurt his team (let’s be honest, France lost because Barthez didn’t come close on those PK’s).  The action of trying to get in a quick blow on an opponent in any game that is of a physical nature happens all the time and it isn’t something to be crucified over.

The men on that field weren’t there to take in an opera.  This wasn’t ballroom dancing.  France and Italy were playing for the World Cup.  The biggest prize you can score in the world of soccer.  How amped up do you think those guys were when they took the field?  And especially, how juiced do you think Zidane was for his final game?  He was probably as fired up as Ricky Williams at a “store” in Amsterdam.    

Here’s something nobody has brought up this week.  Did Marco Matarrazzi have it coming?  You hear people talk about Zidane being a bully but you don’t hear anybody ask that question.  How do we know that Matarrazzi wasn’t aggravating Zidane for 110 minutes straight and calling him the “son of a terrorist whore” was just the icing on the cake?  The people who would say, “he still shouldn’t have done it” are generally the same people who prefer to sit in a circle and sing “Kumbaya”.  Everybody who has played a competitive sport has been in a situation where they’ve wanted to punch somebody out.  Let’s give Zidane some credit.  He at least attempted to do it behind the play in a spot where there is a 50-50 chance you might get away with it.

Over the past week, we have heard many things.  They have ranged from people writing that Zidane has permanently scarred his legacy to talk that he should be stripped of his MVP.  First off, stripping him of the “Golden Ball” would be as ludicrous as the decision to nominate “Kathy Griffin’s Life on the D-List” for a Best Reality TV Show Emmy.  Zidane was the best player in that tournament and is deserving of that award.  Secondly, his legacy had already been secured.  Zidane won a World Cup in 1998.  Zidane’s already got the Green Jacket; he’s got a spot in Cooperstown.  In my opinion, the headbutt he threw may in fact enhance his stature for a casual fan like me.  It showed me that Zidane’s not your stereotypical pretty boy, European soccer player.  Not being a “diver” should have been my first clue, but that headbutt showed me Zidane has some “nails” in him.  And I think that inner rage is probably the reason he became the best player in the world’s biggest sport.  

If you have any questions or comments feel free to e-mail me at [email protected]  

3 replies on “A Different Look At The Headbutt Heard Round The World”

Complete Agreement I completely agree. If I were the French, I would be mad they lost, but you have got to love the intensity and understand that on the field of play it is a completely different world. Zidane could not sit down and think about the pros and cons of headbutting this guy who has obviously aggravated him past the point of no return. Great Column.

Thank you I think Zidane is getting a raw deal from the vast majority of the press right now.  They are taking a holier than thou approach towards that play.  This play shouldn’t sully his legacy at all.

I don’t know… how I’d react if someone called me the son of a terrorist whore. I’d probably laugh at the terrorist part because my mom’s like not even five feet tall.

No matter the circumstance, Zidane still has to stay in that game. I don’t know if it would have been different with him in there on the penalties, but you have to give yourself the best chance to win. Wait til after the game, then punch him in the nuts, gouge out his eyes, have his family killed (I show you what terrorist does), whatever….just stay in the game.

But I do agree that the Italian guy (I forget his name already–Maserati?) didn’t get enough criticism. Oh, well, maybe his home league going to hell is good punishment.

I will despise the Italian team forever. I haven’t even felt like eating pasta since the WC final.

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