When the U.S. men’s national team walked onto the field against Switzerland on Tuesday, Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad was comprised of a collection of swashbuckling, hard-working, patriotic, freedom-loving gentleman who cared deeply about either developing or preserving their puritanical connection with America’s youth. Corporate dollars were at stake. Even if they weren’t, the potential for future corporate dollars hovered in the background. When there’s an opportunity to partner with toothpaste, Kool Aid, Qatar Airways, sporting apparel with the latest cooling technology, or any other meaningful consumer good, you sign the paperwork and then sell the widgets, because people gotta eat.
But upkeep on this facade can’t be the easiest thing to manage. Keeping your shit together in front of fans who are ready to ridicule at a moment’s notice isn’t a skill hard-wired into most our of DNA sequences. Add the pressure of having to impress a coach who didn’t blink before murdering the soccer career of the greatest American player ever before the 2014 World Cup. Now go compete at a world-class level against incredibly intense athletes who want to embarrass you in ways that will end up memorialized forever in a Vine. Every now and then you might drop an f-bomb. Or eight. Shit happens.
The U.S. was ahead of the Swiss 1-0 during the second half when forward Jozy Altidore snapped. A sequence that initially looked like a relatively innocuous foul ended with a flaming Altidore cursing out referee Luca Banti before getting sent off for not being able to control his emotions. You could see the apology materializing as Altidore walked toward the showers. Sorry. Let the team down. Better job. The apology grab bag was teeming with possibilities.
After the game, Altidore’s statement hit the airwaves.
“I want to apologize to our fans and my teammates. Emotion got the best of me and I put our team in a tough position. That’s not the type of role model I want to be. All credit to the boys for grinding it out and earning a positive result.”
I shook my head. What have we done to these people? My role model would curse at the referee and then make an 11 babies comment. The apology was just as disappointing as the sending off.
Altidore was sent off for doing what we see countless professional athletes do during sporting events every week. He cursed at a ref, not on Twitter or during a prank call, but during a hotly contested sporting event. He told another man to fuck off. Sure, the referee didn’t appreciate the show of disrespect — which is reasonable — and his response ended up having an adverse effect on the Americans’ ability to continue fielding 11 men. But, hey, shit happens, and you really don’t have to apologize to kids, back home, who were at school at the time, not watching Altidore not play the final 30 minutes of a friendly.
I’ll confess: I enjoy sporting anger. I enjoy it because it’s human. It’s entertaining. Michael Bradley’s field-rage is wonderful to watch. Altidore’s meltdown was equally spectacular. Goalkeepers screaming obscenities damn near belongs in an art gallery. At some point, if we can’t have our athletes entertain us in between Brek Shea wonder goals using the same tools we crave in Rated-R movies, then we have to question what we’re doing. Are you really here for the tactics? Or are you here for the madness?
But Altidore’s moment of Vine glory is about more than base entertainment. It was a actually something I’d love to see a little more frequently out of U.S. players. Anger, but without the apology — without the need to present a heavy heart for letting down the kids whose parents probably already yell at “Little Fucking Bobby” from across the street for trampling the grass while finishing the last box of wine. Unapologetic anger on a field doesn’t always have to be evil.
Emotion didn’t necessarily get the best of Jozy; emotion could very credibly actually be the best of Jozy. It’s just unfortunate that the man with the whistle didn’t appreciate true expression. It’s unfortunate because inside every role model athlete apologizing is a voice that drives them to wake up, work out, practice, be better — and it curses like sailor all the time. Anger: it’s actually what fuels high-level sport. Maybe it’s time to embrace that shit.