The “Unprofessional Foul”

I was wholeheartedly going to do an article on travel problems in South Africa…I know, I’ve been trying to plan them.  However, a situation came up today that warrants addressing.  Before I say anything else, I’d like to say this is water under the bridge.  I am just posting this as a cautionary tale to recreational sports enthusiasts out there.

If you want to skip the stories, scroll to the end for the take-home points.  There are some tips for coaches, players and just some general life tips at the bottom that hopefully will avoid the story I am about to recount.

People play pick-up sports for fun.  No one wins trophies, makes millions of dollars or gets laid by hot Swedish women when they play a good game.  I play harder than most people.  I think any of my friends would back that up.  They’d also probably say I might be a little bit of a loose cannon. Guys like Dennis Rodman and Wayne Rooney are my heroes (although, the whole wearing a dress thing…not into that.).  That said, I’ve *never* been ejected from a game in which I played.

Let me digress a second to tell a story… I was ejected from a game *as a fan* where the officiating was horrible.  This is how bad officiating was that game…I was wearing a bright green shirt (imagine the brightest green shirt possible or take a look at the Software Freedom Day 2007 shirt – the jpg doesn’t do it justice).  The ref tells my brother’s team’s coach (who was actually my coach 8 years earlier) that the guy in the *maroon* shirt was mouthing off.  I was honestly scared someone’s legs were going to be broken.  Slide-tackles from behind where not only were no cards shown, but no fouls called.  As it turned out, the coach thanked me after the game because he said “rather you than me” and a parent FROM THE OTHER TEAM also got ejected.  This was not a case of getting beat and wanting calls.  In fact, NCSSM won the state championship that year, so they didn’t get beat often. It was really the most unbelievable piece of garbage officiating I’ve ever seen at any level in any sport and thankfully there was someone there who knew enough about the sport to not put up with it.  Everyone else there was either a coward or didn’t realize what was going on.  If they didn’t know what was going on, that’s fine, they are supporting their school and their friends…that’s what they should be doing.  Anyway, I suppose being color-blind does make it hard to tell which team is which…

But, like I said, I’ve never been ejected from a game in which I’ve played.  I’ve been “disqualified” by using up my fouls in basketball, but even when I’m playing in competitive leagues I keep my fouls hard but not stupid.  I won “Best Defense” my senior year in high school, so I must have been doing something right (admittedly, we weren’t very good, but it’s not like we lost every game either).

All of this is to say, when someone is playing so aggressively I can’t respect it, you’re doing something wrong.  Which brings us to the story.  It’s a pretty simple story really.  For the past few weeks I’ve been sending emails to our pickup group hinting to stop the slide-tackling.  I haven’t wanted to ban it completely, but I may need to now.  First off, my former roommate about does a back flip when this guy goes straight at his feet.  Note that my former roommate was not wearing shin guards…most people don’t.  I’m sure most everyone on the field winces at that, but nothing much happens.

I’m playing in the goal, as I’m often conned* into doing.  The ball is way out in front of this guy and as I go out to grab it off the ground he slides and his cleats came about three inches from my face.  I’m not entirely sure I’ve *ever* had someone come that close to my face and I’ve played in the goal for years.  I don’t know what the official call on that is.  I assume that’s a yellow and probably a red if he connects, but I don’t know.  I mean, it’s not exactly like my face is exactly where the ball was.  He didn’t go through the ball to get to my face.  So, I told him how I felt about it.  I don’t exactly remember what I said, but I know it wasn’t family friendly, so I won’t repeat it.  I was probably thinking about my former roommate getting upended, but clearly I wasn’t pleased.  He says, “I didn’t mean to slide,” which is utter crap.  I mean, I don’t know exactly what he meant.  “I didn’t mean to come so close to your face”, perhaps.  At that point, I wasn’t willing to give him the benefit of the doubt (or able considering the speed with which I reacted).  It seemed like an utter, bold-faced lie.  You don’t not mean to slide.  If you fall, you fall in a more clumsy manner or if you accidentally slide into someone, you don’t wait for the person to get pissed to apologize.  Perhaps had he said “I didn’t mean to slide” before I let him know how I thought about, I’d have kept my calm thinking it was just a slip up of words.  But, he waited.  Presumably, he wasn’t going to apologize, not thinking he had done anything wrong.  While I clearly am *not* apologizing for how I reacted, there’s no beef.  After the game he apologized when I had a cool enough head to give him the benefit of the doubt.  I just want to keep that clear as I recount the heated exchange.  Also, I want to make it clear that I reacted inappropriately.

I’m going to digress a bit and while I digress it will probably become clear what happened next.  I’m not sure who started this, or if it’s a European thing, but if, as a player, you just did something stupid or fouled someone hard (accidentally or on purpose), don’t go get in their face.  We have this thing in America called “personal space” and if someone is yelling obscenities at you and you’d like not to get punched in the face, it’s probably not a good idea to break into that space.  After a *lot* of research, I finally found a video so those of you that don’t play/watch soccer could see what I was talking about.  Go to 2:19 in the video.  Also, if you want to see more injury and foul videos, I posted some of the good ones on my twitter or feeds while I was doing research for the article on 2010-05-19. Aside from the personal space thing, Europeans also seem to have this thing about hands on people’s faces.  Don’t touch my damn face.  It’s that simple.  The video quality on the YouTube video to which I linked is so bad it’s hard to see if there are hands to the face, but hands on face is pretty much what it sounds like.

As you might have guessed, he comes up to me to pat me on the back and I probably turned around at the precise wrong moment as he was trotting back up the field.  So, I punch him.  I startled him more than I hurt him.  Keeper gloves aren’t exactly designed for this sort of thing and I haven’t thrown a punch in a long, long time…like since elementary school I think.  I’ve thought about MMA before but my one punch is an indication I have a long way to go before that becomes anything more than the dumbest idea of my life. 🙂

Apparently, our villain goes up to one of our mutual friends (which I didn’t know was a mutual friend at the time) and said “I just got punched again!” or something of that nature, which now I can look back and think is funny.  Apparently our mutual friend has had to tackle him while drunk to avoid getting beat down.  He wasn’t drunk this time, but as dumb as what he did was….maybe he was.

*Playing goalkeeper in pickup is like signing up to be at the other end of a firing squad.  People don’t play defense and on our particular field there’s no lines with which to judge where the ball is.  Also, to play goalkeeper properly you have to go out hard to punch balls and take the ball of people’s feet.  It’s a high impact position and it’s just difficult to play properly in pickup if you don’t want to get too physical.  I’m not making an excuse, but on top of the other reasons, I don’t like playing in the goal because I can’t not take it seriously.  Playing in the goal gets my adrenaline going and I’m not short on adrenaline.  Me playing in the field during pickup is the safest place for everyone involved. 🙂  Also, had I been playing in the field, my face wouldn’t have been on the ground, ya know?

So, I think there are three morals to this story.

1) If you are a captain, a coach, an administrator or even just a team member trying to make a difference, address problems early.  You catch cancer early, it gets fixed.  There’s a reason “locker room cancer” is an oft-mentioned phrase.

2) If someone is clearly riled up, stay out of their face, no matter what the situation; bar, court, work, pitch.

3) Just calm the $(O*% down when you are playing pickup.  Keep it real, ya know?

Again, one last time, I’m no longer angry with this person, this is just a cautionary tale so that *you* don’t get punched in the face.

Also, I want to marry this woman.

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I played four varsity sports in high school (gridiron, track, football and basketball). I went to states with a relay team in North Carolina and made the state semi-finals in football (soccer). I also coached travel football for TFC ( and worked for Eurosport/ I graduated from the University of New Hampshire School of Law, where I study intellectual property and sports law.

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