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Sasha K. Lotnikee

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The World's Game Strikes Again: The Dark Side

July 10, 2014

"Soccer is a pleasure that hurts." quotes Eduardo Galeano*, a distinguished Latin America sports writer. What does this mean? Think about all the soccer superstars plastered with fame in history: Pele, Di Stefano, Cruyff, Eusebio, Puskas, Gullit, Baggio, Beckenbauer. These are the people who have achieved what humanity thought impossible in the past. These are the people who reached a milestone for mankind. These are the people who have changed the course of fate in the world. So, what do you imagine when you think about the World Cup? Probably cheering crowds, the breath-taking soccer stars, the whistle-blowing referees. Maybe even the camaraderie of the teams. But that's not the only part. Underneath all this fame, glory, and team-pride, lies something worse.

These may take form in heartbreak or madness, yet there is no one word to describe it. It's revenge, pride, depression, over-pressure...Who is to blame? Again, there is no one answer. As Galeano puts it, "There's soccer in the sun, and soccer in the shadow."* It's the magical and bewitching sport that has been incorporated into people's lives, all over the world. This, in fact, is what makes soccer so fascinating.

Let us go back to the beginning of the 20th century. And yes, even this heartbreaking feel of madness existed then. Let us go to Uruguay, home to the soccer player Abdon Porte. He was a rising star, the player who always drew loud cheers and applauses when he stepped onto the field. Skip all that. Let us go to his death. It wasn't of an injury, nor of old age, nor was it any sickness. It was suicide. At the age of 38, when he could have a much better future and life in front of him. The self-ruining force of death. The worst possible kind. Killing his own self meant that there was a reason behind it. And there was. He was not chosen for the first Uruguayan soccer team.

This simple little fact meant his life to him. But why? Maybe it was a driving force of self-ambition and pride. Maybe it was all the pressure, thinking that he HAD to get on the team. Perhaps it was both. But without a doubt, it had left a mark on the world. On me. His actions had not reached a milestone for mankind. Instead, Porte's actions has lessened the meaning of life. And even though this was a hundred years ago, it still impacts us today.

Get into the time machine, and travel a little later into history, about the time when Diego Maradona was alive. You might recognize his name; after all, he is considered one of the best soccer players of the 20th century. Famous for his goals and strategies, his legacy still lives on today. Sadly, there is the hidden, desperate, side of the life of Maradona. The dark, blind side. He started using cocaine, and became addicted to drugs, ruining his life. He tried to make a new start. But when the drug test came again, he was suspended for 15 months for having again consumed cocaine. And he left his country in disgrace, leaving everything he had: his roaring fans, his loved ones, and his future.

Why did he take the drugs? Would it make him a better person? As stated before, nobody knows. Except that this madness- desire for fame, greatness, and pride, dwells in every athlete. It is up to the person himself or herself to use this power responsibly and in the right way. As Galeano suggests, Diego Maradona's real crime was always "the sin of being the best".*

Behind all of this glory of the World Cup lies something deeper. Behind every player is his own conscience. Behind every player is the dark side, and their unknown ability to control it. There are countless more incidents which put the spotlight on these soccer star's "dark side", including the death of Gary Speed, a professional soccer coach. Or maybe even more depressing is Robert Enke, another soccer player, who hung himself, leaving his infant daughter and wife in the world. It has happened, it is happening, and it will happen. Not just in soccer, but in every other sport. It isn't within the human grasp to control. There is no one real answer to why all this happens; it is for our minds to explore. But perhaps, this could change. There is always hope. In his dedication, Galeano tells of the children who had once crossed his path on Calella de la Costa. They had played soccer and were singing:

We lost, we won either way we had fun.

If only the professional soccer players could be more like these children.


  • Soccer in Sun and Shadow. written by Eduardo Galeano, translated by Mark Fried/Copyright 2013/Published by Nation Books (www.nationbooks.org)

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  • July 10, 2014 - 11:48am (Now Viewing)

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