Suzanne Fields

One of the coaches observed that "soccer imitates life" and then corrected himself. No, that's wrong, he said: "Life imitates soccer." Even if the Italian player insulted both his mother and his sister, as Zizou claims, it shouldn't have provoked violence. Gertrude Stein might have observed that "a rule is a rule is a rule." That's elemental. But it's also simplistic. In making icons of star athletes we gloss over the human vulnerabilities -- there are plenty of them -- that opposing players know how to take advantage of, and often.

"The truth is that it is perhaps not so easy to stay in the skin of an icon, demigod, hero, legend," writes Bernard-Henri Levy in the Wall Street Journal. He describes Zizou's violence as "the man's insurrection against the saint." When the player apologized for setting a bad example, he correctly noted that "I'm a man before anything else."

The instruction here for children and parents who encourage boys and girls to make it in the real world of sports (or business, politics or whatever) is that games have rules that require physical and emotional discipline. A good athlete has to learn how to keep his cool. He has to see himself in relation to his humanity, not his celebrity. Homer introduces us to the legendary Achilles in the opening scene of the Iliad behaving like a sulking adolescent, a poor sport indulging a jealous temper tantrum, not the towering warrior. His weakness lies not only in his heel.

Psychologists describe Zizou's head-butt as the equivalent of road rage. Others see it rooted in the hard knocks he took on the streets of Marseilles where his Algerian origins provoked bigotry and prejudice. But he overcame great obstacles to get where he was, probably because of those great obstacles. Hence that's no excuse. Like a recovering alcoholic or drug addict who talks to kids about the ravages of self-destruction, Zizou can now talk about self-control as the most important element of character. That's the way anyone can keep from becoming a bum.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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