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
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
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
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
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:
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.
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