So what could have provoked Zidane? The concensus is that the Italian player taunted him at a critical moment, and Zidane just lost control. That anyone should snap after hours of grueling play, pummeled and exhausted, and carrying the hopes of their entire nation on their shoulders, is unsusprising. I think it's fairly reasonable to conclude that Materazzi made a calculation, and then acted deliberately to avoid the otherwise inevitable. We don't know yet what was said, and Materazzi predictably denies having taunted Zidane in any way, but some variation of "arab terrorist" is likely, though confirmation can only come from Zidane himself.
And as Ali Eteraz points out, were it indeed a taunt of racial or religious nature, then Zidane owes Materazzi no apology:
Zidane's act was spontaneous; borne solely out of his appreciation of the fact that he had been disrespected when he did not deserve to be. Perhaps Zidane should have been more like Jackie Robinson. But the fact remains that Zidane is not in Robinson's situation. Zidane is a colored player in a sport that has been full of colored players for almost a hundred years and yet still contains explicit acts of racism such that its governing body has to initiate a "Say No To Racism" platform. Jackie Robinson was a gentleman because he was the first to make it. Zidane is at a place where we should be far beyond the stage of gaining acceptance; where respect should be freely available.
And what of sportsmanship, some ask? In a sport where racism is as engrained as it is in the host culture of Europe as a whole towards its immigrant sons? Where Zidane himself was told in 1998 by his own team manager, "Zizou, the French team is not you, and you don't represent the French team" ?
And as for those who believe that Zidane, and muslims as a whole, are overly sensitive to racism and ethnic slurs, one need only look at this:
Sunday, July 09, 2006
More World Cup Observations [John Podhoretz]
This is astounding: A French player assaulting an Italian player during the finals match. I gather that the incident began when the Italian player said, "You know what? I like Jews."
Posted at 5:20 PM
there are jafis aplenty in the United States just as there are in Europe. Some people, Podheretz included, look at Zidane and will never see anything other than a dirty muslim. Zidane head-butted all of them with his act, and I am proud of him for it.
Eteraz goes on:
There are many who will decry Zidane having cost his country another cup. Others who will say that he "should have risen above it." But that's what is most wonderful about this situation: Zidane had already accomplished in 1998 all he needed to accomplish to prove himself. He had already brought one cup to his cup-less country. He had already, prior to coming to Germany 2006, "risen above" the entire cavalcade of history and bigotry, to become the "greatest footballer of our generation." So great was he that despite losing last night, and despite getting thrown out, he was still determined the winner of the Golden Ball Award as the best player of the tournament. When it came to football, Zidane didn't have anything to prove. He was the greatest football of our generation, and as such, what he deserved, was some respect. He did not get it. So he put the Italian on the floor. Zidane was always the best at getting what is most elusive. I believe in the end Zidane will say that he was wrong in what he did. That will make Zidane an even greater hero.
Yes it was wrong, but it was defensible. The reason it was wrong was because it was aan act for Zidane, not for the French fans. But Zidane in that moment was not an athlete - he had been reduced by Materazzi - for reasons of cold calculus and spite - to a mere thing. And so Zidane reclaimed his humanity and his dignity - a selfish act, but a neccessary one. Zidane should indeed apologize to the French fans - but not to Materazzi. We shall see.