Monday, June 14, 2010

Mondays with Murray

Andrés Escobar (March 13, 1967 - July 2, 1994) was a Colombian footballer who was shot and killed in Medellín. It is widely believed that he was murdered due to his own goal in the 1994 FIFA World Cup, which caused gambling losses to several powerful drug lords. Andrés Escobar is still held in the highest regard by Colombian fans, and is especially mourned and remembered by Atlético Nacional's fans.

"Colombia is a not-so-good neighbor to the south of us that is the only country in South America to have a coastline on two oceans. It is split by the mighty Magdalena River, and it produces the best coffee in the world. It also produces some of the finest coca in the world, the biggest crop of heartbreak in any hemisphere." — Jim Murray

Death Will Be the Lasting Memory

The 1972 Olympics will never be remembered for world records, non-winning fractions or general brotherhood of the athletic community. It will be remembered for the slaughter of a dozen fine athletes by a band of terrorists. It will forever be the "Massacre" Olympics.
  The 1919 World Series will never be remembered for called shots, spectacular catches, base-stealing splurges or brilliant pitching. It will be remembered for underworld intrusion into the grand old game — the Black Sox Scandal, the Fixed Fall Classic.
  And the 1994 World Cup will not be remembered for strikers, sweepers, keepers or waving flags or national anthems. It will be remembered for a murder. A sudden, shocking act of homicide of a fine young athlete who had done nothing more serious than cost his team a game. It was the most terrible kind of lynching. The death of an innocent. Cause of death: World Cup soccer. Murder One.
  Colombia is a not-so-good neighbor to the south of us that is the only country in South America to have a coastline on two oceans. It is split by the mighty Magdalena River, and it produces the best coffee in the world. It also produces some of the finest coca in the world, the biggest crop of heartbreak in any hemisphere. It is the home of the infamous Medellin cartel, brokers of the world's cocaine, and it comes into focus as one of the great lawless centers of the universe, one that makes Chicago of the '20s and the 19th Century Barbary Coast look like monasteries by comparison.
  But even for Medellin, this was a shocking burst of mindless violence.
  Colombia wasn't always an international outlaw. It was here that the great Simon Bolivar threw the Spaniards out of the New World and introduced the first democracy in South America. It was, in some ways, a beacon of enlightenment.
  A World Cup, in some cases, is nationalism gone mad. But not even runaway drug trafficking could give Colombia the international image some enraged "patriots" with guns gave it last week. It didn't do much for soccer's image either.
  It cost the life of a bright young athlete, Andres Escobar. He was brutally slain outside a Medellin restaurant by self-appointed executioners. His crime? He accidentally scored the goal by which the United States defeated Colombia in the first round of World Cup competition. An accident. A bit of misfortune. Happens all the time in net sports from hockey to basketball.
  Colombia came into the World Cup as one of the favorites. It was 7-1 on the morning line. Only Germany and Brazil (4-1) had shorter prices.
  The United States was held at 200-1. Therefore, there was no reason for anyone to expect the North Americans to defeat Colombia in the opening round. And they wouldn't have — except for a ball that ricocheted off Escobar's foot accidentally into his own goal. Because that goal lost the game and prevented Colombia from advancing, it aroused a terrible passion in some of his countrymen, a murderous rage.
  It is a tragic example of the psychological damage chauvinistic rooting can engender. The my-country-can-beat-your-country complex gone stark raving mad.
  Is the World Cup format itself to blame? Well, we have seen an instance of a match triggering a war (El Salvador vs. Honduras). Even victories have triggered riots. And fatalities.
  But sports fans have lived with disappointments before. It goes with the territory. No one ostracized Fred Merkle for his "bonehead" play — failing to touch second — costing the Giants the pennant in 1908. When Roy Riegels ran the wrong way in the Rose Bowl in 1929, it went into the lore and literature, of the game, not on any police blotter. There is some evidence memory of that event left some scars on Riegels' psyche, but the facts of the matter are, the rest of America thought it was funny.
  Today, there's a good chance a man — or woman — who commits a classic boo-boo could become a national hero of sorts. It's for sure they'd be on all the talk shows, probably get a shoe endorsement or two and probably a line of Wrong Way soft drink products. They would be invited to cut supermarket ribbons and attain celebrity status and be widely held to be surrogate for every guy who ever left the water running or the keys in the car or his wallet in the restaurant or lost a winning lottery ticket.
  When winning becomes, literally, life or death, it's time to examine priorities. It's all right to cheer for your school, your town, your country. But when it goes beyond good-natured cheering, it gets ugly. It has always made me uneasy to see fans show up for Olympic Games draped in flags or signs and howling "USA!" on one side and booing fine athletes from other countries on the other. Olympic Games have always been held to be contests between individuals, not countries. You cheer for a great athlete like Pele or Carl Lewis regardless of the colors of his uniform.
  It's unfortunate for a sport and a format that had finally seemed to be gaining wide, enthusiastic acceptance in this country. Soccer sold out practically wherever it was staged in the United States. We had finally been let in on a grand international party, and we liked it. It was like your first prom.
  It will probably be won by Brazil or Germany, It always is. But whoever wins, it might be beside the point. It will not be known for that. It will be known for Murder in Medellin.
  World Cup football might have taken a bullet to the belly too. We don't know who won World Cup '94. But we know who lost it. All of us.

Reprinted with permission by the Los Angeles Times
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