In reading here and there about the big ol' controversy from this weekend's World Cup finale, I didn't find what I really wanted to know (what on Earth did Materazzi say to Zidane to elicit that response?), but I did find an interesting commentary from the San Francisco Chronicle's C.W. Nevius, who said this:
It is much tougher to live as a shining example, than to be known as a temperamental superstar. Bad actors get a free pass when they do something classless and bone-headed. We don't expect any more from a known jerk.
This is what I've come to love about sports—their ability to (Cliché alert! Warning: cliché ahead!) illuminate the human condition. Even if you don't care about the sport itself, watching sports, and the passions they elicit in their players and fans, teaches you so much about how people tick.
Now, I don't know much about Zidane—he was no hero or inspirational idol to me. I wasn't terribly attached to the outcome of the World Cup finals. I think professional soccer seems to be a systematically flawed game. But watching other people's reactions to his "inappropriate," "shameful," "disappointing," "[call-it-what-you-like]" behavior on the pitch has made Nevius's words resonate all the more. People so desperately want "shining examples," heros and idols, leaders who seem much holier than ourselves, and our modern media culture gives us easy access to a vast batch of candidates. We find the good ones, and we're quick to elevate them, sparing no energy in their exaltation. But when they falter, oh do we punish and judge! I remember Meg Ryan saying something to that effect when she was getting all that bad press about her marriage breaking up and her affair with Russell Crowe—something along the lines of, "I had no idea how ready people were to hate me."
It makes me realize how terribly double-edged the sword of being adored—even being perceived as "good"—is. You have to make extra effort to behave, you worry all the time about pleasing people, and yet you get harsher judgment when you fall from grace. You're almost better off being a jerk or a diva. When they misbehave, everybody basically excuses it. "What do you expect from someone like that?" they ask.
The whole thing is simply a further reminder that you have to do things because they make you feel better, and what other people think is pretty much a lot of rot, whether you're in the spotlight or not. So to M. Zinédine Zidane, I say simply this: your name is COOL!