When Zinedine Zidane got a red card in Sunday's World Cup Final after head-butting Italian Marco Materazzi, there was a collective gasp, followed by speculation about what Materazzi could possibly have said to get him to jeopardize the most important game in his career and the way history views him. It must have been egregious and outrageous. Hideous and unspeakable. But what was it?
Both players have spoken to the press, effectively saying nothing. Both talked about what had not been said, skirting around the issue. Some media even employed lip readers to try to determine what had been said, with no success.
I can't imagine what might have been said, but I do speculate that planning session in sports often involve thinking of ways to take out key opposition players, by fouling or even hurting them. And taunting opponents is as old as mankind, in war or in sports. I always thought the taunting was a kind of spontaneous harrassment between individuals. But obviously it can make as big a difference in outcomes as taking out a player any other way.
And in sports, players are usually in a state of heightened rage, amped up by fellow players and coaches and the excitement of the game, and their own testosterone levels (in men's sports, anyway. I can't remember the last time I saw a woman chasing an opponent around a court or field with mayhem on her mind.)
So I wonder if groups of players, officially or unofficially, sit around and discuss what they can say that will cause an opposing player to become unglued.
Do they research one another's pasts? Seduce each other's wives and mothers, just to have a wounding barb to use at a crucial moment, to make a crucial difference in a critical game? One wonders. And did Materazzi sit down to a glass of chiani with teammates later and say "well, that one worked" (only in Italian), and start plotting a similar strategy against an upcoming opponent.