"Ah Zidane! Why this?! Why now? Why tonight?!" the French announcer yelled out, echoing the horror felt in every living room in France on Sunday night.
It was the 110th minute of one of the most high-stakes World Cup finals ever, when player #10, Zinedine Zidane--national hero and global soccer icon, unironically described as the best soccer player in the world--got himself disqualified. Up until that 110th minute the game between France and Italy had been nail-biting, exhausting, and just plain beautiful soccer. No one had scored since the first twenty minutes, and it was pretty clear no one would until the penalty kicks at the end. And then Zizou, beloved, worshipped and about to retire, lost his cool. The whole world watched him head-butt an Italian forward in the chest in response to a provocation that would remain a mystery until today.
The World Cup essentially ended when the referee gave Zidane a red card, benching him for the rest of the game, and quite literally ending his mythic career with this huff of petulance. I don't doubt the Italian player did and said something incredibly prickish, but in that moment--watching Zidane lash out--I finally understood what sports spectating can be all about. I'm a very late, stupid bloomer undoubtedly, but if anyone had ever told me that sports could have this real dimension of heartbreaking tragedy, I definitely would've watching all these years.
We didn't see Zidane again after that--he didn't come out for the medaling--but we did see the brilliant French defender, Lilian Thuram, who couldn't hide his disappointment and sheer sadness. The tears kept coming. As the same French announcer concluded, quietly, inconsolable.