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World Cup Soccer - The Pink Card: A Modest Proposal

By Brian Algra
Saturday, July 13th, 2002

Every four years by this time, in the speedily-subsiding wake of the World Cup buzz, we in the United States of America have been subjected to a bootlicking barrage of invective and ingratiation from "football" aficionados across the globe, nearly all of whom are anxious to get us serious about soccer.

Our old oppressors, the Europeans, are especially insistent -- and incredibly, even unified -- on the issue. Indeed, whenever they manage to tear themselves away from trade disputes or tea-and-crumpets, they seem to be admonishing American soccer-knockers through an unprecedented program of coordinated sniveling -- no small feat for a continent which can't even agree on the appropriate time of year to take three straight months off of work.

In any case, soccer clearly focuses Europe's enormous power to annoy, and the tactics of its standard-bearers are easy to personify. Simply picture the combined member states of the E.U. pointing -- with a theatrical flourish of a collective gauloise -- toward what they contend to be the "artistry" of the World Cup game.

Then envision them pouting, in their most piercing Farinellian tones and with a slightly nervous tug at a communal black turtleneck: "Why won't you American imbeciles appreciate this? You ought to know that you can only civilize yourselves by sharing in the fervor for futbol that rules the rest of the world!"

Visualize this scenario, and you have hit upon a European attitude that scorns the USA even more for its soccer-directed disdain than for its lack of gun-control laws or its underappreciation of Jerry Lewis.

And yet, no matter how many Old World dainties and antipathies are sacrificed to this noble effort to school the oblivious American masses, our response is always, hilariously, the same. We, who in our Hobbesian state of semi-savagery stray from our backstabbing business pursuits only when attending to the He-men of the homefront sports scene, horrify our transatlantic cousins time and again by utterly anathematizing any male interest in soccer past K-League AYSO.

Imagine, for instance, how many German techno tracks must have scratched to a stop this spring when a host of American homemakers went on record wondering "Do grown men even play soccer?" ("I thought," one of these self-proclaimed "soccer moms" subsequently explained -- and you could almost feel the bidets backing up in Brussels when she said it -- "that it was only a sport for women.")

And think, moreover, of my own mortification when, only a few hours later, I spat up a mouthful of haggis onto a Scottish friend who had remarked by way of retort that "Americans are too busy napalming foreign peasants and fattening their own arses with blood-subsidized double Whoppers to possibly appreciate the beauty of football."

All of this goes to show that, no matter how many croissants are choked upon in Monte Carlo and Milan after any given dismissal of soccer in America, our would-be European patrons will never stop spitting back with efforts to convert us to their point of view. And since nothing short of finding a way to appreciate soccer is likely to shut them up, I, for one, am prepared to get started on sanctioning it as an acceptable sport in this country. That being said, though, I'll be damned if I'm gonna do anything of the sort without some quid pro quo concessions coming first from overseas.

That is why, in the interest of what Maverick and Goose have referred to as "keeping up foreign relations," I am hereby appealing to our friends around the world to prove that what they call "artistic" can amount to more than what we would call, well ... immasculine; and that soccer can teach our aspiring athletes more than how to use the locker room curling iron and how to drink wine for breakfast. And what's more, I'm going to show them just how they can do it.

Hence, without further ado, here is my suggestion for facelifting the game of football to satisfy red-blooded, Whopper-eating, arms-dealing American sports fans everywhere. Never fear -- we needn't pay for this touch of Old World sporting artistry by selling out our own distinguished tradition of athletic brutality. We need only ensure that the especially artistic points of the international pastime are singled out for censure via the adoption of the cleverly-conceived, the admirably apropos, and the prodigiously non-pareil: the PINK CARD.

The pink card is the perfect solution to the soccer dilemma, not least because of its amenability to the game's goofy practice of giving red and yellow cards to contestants who indulge in "ungentlemanly" comportment during the flow of a match. Bearing in mind, though, that the concept of "gentleness" has never had any business belonging to a sport worth spending any time on, we as Americans would do well to lobby for an amendment better suited to the spirit of Uncle Sam. I can see it now: "FIFA Law 5.5a -- The referee shall caution and show a pink card to any player guilty of unmanly behavior on the field of play."

Even this legislative fix, however, likely won't do the trick without an accompanying push for reform on the executive-judicial side of things. After all -- although you wouldn't catch me saying so to Pierluigi Collina's face -- non-North-American referees might not be the most dependable authorities when it comes to dispensing decisions on manliness.

Fortunately, here, too, a solution seems close at hand. Seeing as FIFA has recently elected to experiment with a fourth "penalty box" official, why can't a fifth "pink card" official be added, as well? And better yet, why not make this fifth official someone who really knows his manliness, like Jose Canseco, or Ray Lewis, or The Rock?

The prospect of seeing a homicidal Lewis chasing down Italian diving team captain Francesco Totti with pink card in hand would alone, I suspect, keep a large percentage of the American sporting public glued to the dullest of scoreless draws. And anyway, even without such a visceral spectacle to drive up the ratings, just think of all the pathetic soccer situations for which the pink card could correct. Here, off the top of my head, are four:

1. Diving

In Mexico's quarterfinal matchup with the USA, Luis Hernandez dribbled into the box in the 67th minute, made a half-hearted move on Gregg Berhalter in the box, and -- untouched by the American defender's tackle -- belly-flopped to the turf instead of taking his chances on a shot on goal. Referee Vitor Pereira was quick to give a yellow card for diving, which was somewhat satisfying -- at least the call went the right way.

But when it's a player's 25th dive in the past ten minutes, and when any time an opponent nears him, he's flopping all over the place like Vlade Divac playing post D on the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, isn't something more than a yellow required? Surely, a more obvious pink card situation is difficult to imagine. And don't anybody try to tell me that Hernandez doesn't deserve a pink card here. If anything, his peroxide-blonde Jane-of-the-jungle hairdo might as well merit a second booking (see below, #4).

In the new pink-card regime, he'd be sent off the field faster than he was shipped away from the L.A. Galaxy, and forced to think about what he'd done until he could reform himself into a manlier Mexican -- like the guy by my house who can belch the Gettysburg Address.

2. Feigning Injury

A pink card should also rebuke any player who indulges in the sort of doubled-over, shin-pad-clasping, vaudeville-grimacing, Shakespearean-death-scene histrionics which so often accompany pink-card infraction #1. Moreover, anyone who grew up watching the real injury-time exploits of Willis Reed or John Elway would agree that this should go double for all players who are lifted dying onto stretchers and carted off the field writhing in melodramatic agony, only to leap up like Lazarus and play again at top speed within seconds.

Nowhere was this particular need for the pink card made more evident than on early-round British TV, when the time-zone quirks of scheduling on Channel 5 and the BBC meant that Stanley Cup playoff games and World Cup group matches were often aired back-to-back. While watching a replay of Leafs/'Canes Game 6 on June 3, for example, I was powerfully struck by the feeling that should, say, Chris Chelios have been beheaded during play, he'd probably have picked up his severed noggin and skated over to the bench, where the team doctor would have stitched it back on, stemmed the bleeding with a welding torch, and had his man back out on the ice faster than you can say Boris Becker in a broom closet.

By contrast, both sides in the subsequently-televised Brazil/Turkey group match featured players who seemed ready to leap onto the gurney at the slightest slip of a strand of hair.

But for all this it was Brazil's Rivaldo who clinched the proverbial pink-card cake by feigning a brain hemorrhage when a ball from Hakan Unsal struck him softly on the knee. Not only did Rivaldo provide an Oscar performance worthy of Hilary Swank, but he also managed to refer to his antics as examples of the "wit and intelligence" for which the world admires his nation's style of football.

If this isn't an advertisement against the Brazilian "beautiful game," then I don't know what is; and if I hadn't been laughing so hard, it would have made me puke.

Intelligence in sport, as we all know, is Magic Johnson running the break, Brett Favre reading the zone blitz, Tony Gwynn guessing the fastball, and Randy "Macho Man" Savage parrying Hulk Hogan's Leg Drop with an Atomic Elbow. It is NOT pretending your head has exploded in order to cheat your way to victory over Turkey. The verdict? Pink card, all the way.

3. Catfighting

It almost goes without saying that additional pink cards should be handed out to any player who kicks at an opponent out of spite. The temper-tantrum outbursts of Rafael Marquez against Cobi Jones in Jeonju this summer, or of David Beckham against the diving Diego Simeone in France '98, weren't even so much morally reprehensible as they were misguided in form. Everyone knows that real men don't fight with their feet, let alone use them to kick balls at each other.

Throwingthings at opponents is okay, of course -- cavemen threw spears at wooly mammoths, John Wayne threw grenades at the gooks, and Roger Clemens throws baseballs at the ocular cavities of people in Queens -- but kicking at another "man" is just plain pink-cardable. Indeed, a proper pink card official would never rest until he'd managed to get the David Beckhams of the world yanking jerseys over defensemen's arms or missing flurries of awkward punches at Knicks/Heat games, instead of toe-punching shin guards and pulling ponytails.

In other words, if you're going to get sent off, at least do it the American way -- by dropping gloves, talking trash, and brawling like a loc'ed-out gangster ... and not by earning your second pink card with a bitchy back-heel to your marker's earlobe.

4. Salon Selectives

Lastly, a slew of pink cards must surely await any player who persists in looking like he's had a ladies' perm before the game. In fact, the sport has gone so long without such a statute in place that it has already become plainly impossible to prevent most of the world's marquee talents from spending more time conspiring with their stylists than training on the practice pitch. Don't get me wrong -- Ronaldo's half-fro and Clint Mathis' mohawk are at least as entertaining on the soccer field as Darius Miles' Don King 'do and Larry Bird's moptop have been on the hardwood.

It is not to these creative virtuosos that the pink cards should go, but rather to the plethora of pretty boys who permeate the rest of the football rabble: to Totti and Hernandez, to Ahn Jung-hwan and Nuno Gomes, to every French striker who resembles a futbolized Fabio, and to every South American forward who looks like the pan flutist in your local Peruvian band. When it comes to hairstyles that are supposed to look cool, FIFA could use more Eddie George and less Edie Falco. Even the added shame of an endorsement contract from Clairol can't justify a Carmela Soprano coiffure on match day.

And to further riff on the Sopranos chord, still more severe penalties should be dealt to all players who wear their hair like Furio Giunta without compensating by shooting people for a living. I mean seriously, has anyone else noticed the sweat-proof, soccer-specific hair grease that keeps so many a footballer's black ringlets glistening from the field introductions to the final whistle? Merely wearing that stuff is more than enough to qualify any competitor for a pink card, but whoever invented it should be ridden out of town on Stan Marsh's dog and saddled with an oversize novelty pink card to secure his infamy.

Although it's true that such a measure would likely disqualify any given Italian side out of hand (and thereby, it has to be said, costing the whole pink-carding process many a later moment to shine), in the end, it would almost certainly placate the Pabst-swilling sports fans the pink card is meant to content.

And so at the last it has to be said that, when it comes to answering the chidings of our football-crazy critics, we'd do best to recall the advice of one of history's great Americans. "Ask not," we must maintain, "what soccer can do for our country; ask what our country can do to destabilize soccer's legitimate system of government and bring it under our imperialist dominion."

With this as our objective, the pink card represents an idea whose time has come. It is, in fact, the only way forward. And until it's given due consideration, this reporter will go on cheering -- not just for Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Tony Sanneh and the rest of Bruce Arena's brave young souls, but for every stupid American out there who's never heard of a single one of them, and who otherwise never will.

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