Head-Butt Heard ‘Round the World

By Andre Banks Aug 22, 2006

Today, French soccer star Zinedine Zidane apologized to children around the world for headbutting Italian player Marco Materazzi in the final match of a World Cup marred by racism at every turn.
In overtime play, the headbutt caused “Zazou,” France’s star player to be ejected, a move that led to a World Cup championship for the Italians.

The announcement came this afternoon after rumors have swirled for days accusing Materazzi of racist comments that prompted the attack.

But what could he have said that would make a star player, respected on and off the field, ruin his chances in the most important soccer match in the world?

Well, according to the BBC and other sources a lip reading expert reviewing the exchange claimed that Materazzi said, “son of a terrorist whore" to Algerian Zidane before he added, "So just f— off".

After an initial denial, Materazzi admitted that he insulted Zidane.  He claimed however that his attacks weren’t racist in an oft quoted and ridiculous statement where he claims to be a simpleton who has never heard of a terrorist.  While it seems hard to believe that he’s that stupid, it’s not hard to believe he provoked the fight on the field.  It seems, Sgr. Materazzi has a history of violence all his own: Watch for yourself here .

In an ever more diverse Europe, soccer seems to be the most public place for racial conflict to play out.  While immigrants of color win matches, is French society willing to play fair off the field? The folks over at KABOBfest have put together a nice little history of Zidane’s iconic role in the debate over race in France.  A child of Algerians, he’s become a national hero while representing a new generation of French citizens.  While he’s not rebelling in the streets , he has ignited controversary by asserting his right to French citizenship as an Arab person. 

So maybe he got it right. 

As the KABOBfest folks put it:

"If Zidane was compelled by a racist quip — which follows a long line of abuse from Euracists — then I applaud his act, even if it cost the Cup. If these reports are true, Zidane's niceties on issues of racism, and the high-priced marketing campaigns, have really done little. Europe may need something of a more radical movement for equality.”

We may never know for sure what happened on the field, but we do know that racism in sports is real and is a mirror into the larger workings of society.  And, as these folks show, enough is enough.

Do you think FIFA will take away Zindane’s Golden Ball award for the best player at the World Cup due to violent conduct?  Go to ARC’s poll here