Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 4. Below are some personal choices for that honor by SI writers.
11/20/2006 02:46:00 PM
My Sports Man: Zinédine Zidane
Zinédine Zidane's fateful headbutt of Italy's Marco Materazzi is the lasting image of the 2006 World Cup final.
John Macdougall/AFP/Getty Images
By Grant Wahl
It may seem odd, at first, that I'm casting my Sports Man of the Year vote for the athlete who perpetrated the most notoriously un-sportsmanlike act of 2006.
But look closer. There's a world of difference in the tap of a space-bar, the transformation of "Sportsman of the Year" to "Sports Man of the Year." And if we use Henry Luce's classic definition for Time magazine's Man of the Year -- the figure who, "for better or for worse, most affected events during the year" -- there can be no debate that Zinédine Zidane is the Sports Man of the Year.
One simple act can change everything, of course, and that tap of the space-bar might as well symbolize the journey that Zidane took in one Shakespearean moment of madness at 10:27 p.m. Central European Time on July 9, 2006, at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin built by Adolf Hitler (Time Man of the Year, 1938).
When Zizou rammed his head into the solar plexus of Italy's Marco Materazzi, he did more than drop his blue-shirted foe like a logger felling a Redwood. With one crisp, violently efficient gesture on the most visible stage in sports, the World Cup final, the greatest player of his generation ended his career by whipsawing from honor to disgrace, from savior to antihero, from YouTube deity to YouTube punchline.
And, not least, from Sportsman of the Year to Sports Man of the Year.
Make no mistake, if the head butt hadn't happened, if France had gone on to defeat Italy on penalty kicks, then Zidane would have deserved the Sportsman of the Year award even more than Roger Federer (who I'm sure won't win, either).
By leading Les Bleus to elimination-round victories over Spain, Brazil and Portugal, Zizou had turned back the clock to his career-making turn in 1998, when France won the World Cup on home soil. Duly floored, I wrote an Ode to Zidane before the final that was basically a first-draft of the magazine Sportsman story I hoped I'd be writing for December.
That prospect seemed even more likely when Zidane gave France a 1-0 lead on that fateful night in Berlin, and then again when he came inches from scoring on a screaming header in extra time with the score tied 1-1.
But then I look back at my notebook and re-live the confusion and shock of what happened as the players jogged downfield for a goal kick five minutes later: 109' ITA player flattened/???/Zidane hdbutt Materazzi!/Red card Zidane!!!
Thus began a cultural phenomenon for the YouTube age, a strange mix of finger-wagging indignation and Three Stooges farce. By the next day, as media around the globe were enlisting professional lip-readers to divine what was said, a Zidane headbutt game had already appeared on the Internet.
As the principals kept mum, no less an authority than The New York Times credulously reported a Zidane family member's belief that Materazzi had called Zidane a French ethnic slur (harki), somehow assuming the Italian lug had a firm grasp of Franco-Algerian history.
In the end, after a FIFA investigation, endless moralizing and exclusive media interviews of Zidane and Materazzi, it all came down to a "Yo Mama" crack: When Zidane told Materazzi that he could have Zizou's shirt after the game, the Italian said he'd rather have Zidane's sister. Cue headbutt.
These days, Zidane (who apologized to "the children" but never to Materazzi) finds himself more popular than ever in France -- par for the course in this most peculiar of epic sagas. Enjoy the Sports Man of the Year award, Zizou. You've certainly earned it.
No, Zidane doesn't deserve the award. Tell me what Zidane has done this year? Headbutting an Italian player in the final of World Cup and got a red-card? So being an unsporting athlete should get the Sportsman of the Year award? Why not just give this award to some drug-abuse athletes?
Roger Federer should be the Sportsman of the Year. The way he dominates the sport, the way he plays, and most importantly, being great but still humble. This is what a sportsman should have, the sportsmanship which is often left out. I will be very disappointed by the judges if Zidane wins this award, reflecting what society we are having now.
You make a big mistake by saying that first, IF France won the World Cup Zidane should be chosen SI Sportsman of the year ahead of Roger Federer, and that Roger Federer will not win it as he is ... from Europe.
Roger Federer has to win it this year, there is no doubt in anyone´s mind except the ones who block away the facts.
Roger Federer has shown he is from another planet as a person on and off the court.
Someday full appreciation in USA will come to this genius.
Powell of Jamaica. He is the first man to run a world record three times, and he was quick to point it out to the world, hinting he is the best. "I'm the only one who has ever run 9.77 three times. I ran a world record three times," he told journalists after the race.
It truly confuses me when a professional writer casts his vote for a player who not only offended millions by his horrible loss of temper, but by simply implying that because of what he has done in the past, excuses everything. Tempers fly in sports, words are exchanged, but what type of "hero", what type of national icon, what type of "best of his generation" does such a thing when his people need him most? You cast your vote for attention, just to be controversial because you could easily go for Roger Federer. That isn't the case though, it has to be the man who sure, has "been" a hero, but has not performed like one. You tell kids that, ok, you can do one really horrible act but if you've been mostly good, it's ok, you're excused. Who cares what he has done, he let his country down when they needed him most and for that no one should be called Sportsman of the YEAR, THIS YEAR, not the past yearS!
First of all like Grant said just as Man of the year in Time Magazine, Sport Man has the same meaning. Second of all, all he did was headbutt a guy, random acts of violence has happened by many other players many times. Its just this time it was his final game on The final World Cup game. Other than that Zidane is by far the best player of his generation.
He went from a man who called it quits on international play to a man who decided to give it one last shot and became the heart of his team and single-handedly put them in the Final game. His plays were as beautiful as they were many years ago, and the game against brazil you could of taken the rest of the Blues team out, they probably still would of won. I think, no I know France desrved that game even though I'm an England fan. If it wasnt for that incident and they won, till now people would be discussing how Zidane gave France the world cup twice. Now that he retired and some want to remeber him for an incident that lasted 5 seconds, the least we can do is name him Sportman of the year. He's still a hero to most
News to Federer supporters (of which, I am one), it's very unlikely to happen though he is more than deserving. Only three tennis players have been named Sportsman of the Year: 2 women (Billie Jean King in 1972 and Chris Evert in 1976) and Arthur Ashe in 1992, just before he passed away and long after his playing days were over. No Laver, no Rosewall, no Borg, no Connors, no McEnroe, no Becker, no Edberg, no Wilander, no Agassi, and no Sampras. It's not a European bias, it's a tennis bias.
SI only covers USA sports (basketball, football, baseball, hockey, golf) and nobody outside the USA reads it, so it'd be no great surprise if they give the award to some US athlete like DWade or Tiger to boost sales. Any self-respecting international magazine would of course pick Federer for the phenomenal year he's had.
I totally agree with this choice. The Football World cup was the biggest sporting event of the year, and of the last 4 years, and the biggest story in that event was Zidane almost from the beginning. He was the best player in that tournament and the most charismatic charactor. What he did is sad but this has made him even more famous and more likeable strangely enough.
Few events in sport (I am 49 years old) have had an impact on me as much as the Zidane head butt. He is the ultimate warrior, willing to jeopardize his international reputation to defend the honor of his family (sister, mother). He had no regard to materialism, to the millions of dollars he stood potentially to lose. Zidane displayed a level of courage that summer evening which "mere mortals" do not possess. As it turns out, rather than suffer damage to his image, Zidane has risen in popularity throughout the world (especially in France), proof that people everywhere have recognized how truly powerful a man Zidane really is.
Grant wasn't saying he was the "greatest 'sportsman' like 'honorable man who has a great sporting achievment', he was saying he was the Sports MAN of 2006, like: Person who has made a great impact, positive or negative, and who has made some actions which will be remembered..... In addition, I need to point out that while everyone is so quick to jump on Zidane's case (maybe cuz he's French and many in the USA have an un-warranted bias against France, even though we love our Tony Parkers, Boris Diaws, and Joakim Noahs)... NO ONE is bringing up the fact that the 'champions' of WC football had numerous ties to the Serie A match fixing scandal?? That's comparable to a baseball team loaded up with Bonds, Giambi, Canseco, Maguire, and Sosa winning the World series and then everyone getting on Nolan Ryan's case for beaning Bonds with the ball on purpose! sheesh... oh yeah, what's Nike doing making a commercial glorifying a dirty player who can't hang with the best so he either a) tries to hurt people with knee high-spikes up tackels, or b) insults the female family members of one of the games greatest heroes... during the most honorable FINAL OF THE WORLD CUP!! )(Marco Materazzi is not a role model and should never be put on TV except for clip shows and red-card replays, look him up on youtube... its all cheapshots)... Zidane will always be a hero, and if you ask most people who follow Soccer they will tell you the same. The head butt was well deserved and well received.
I am not surprised that soccer once again is paint brushed with a negative as this is the norm in US Sports journalism.
The problem with the award is that the magazine does not fully report or 'recognize' world sports in their coverage. Sports transcends borders and as such should be reported without bias or predilection. Unfortunately, in the history of the award, which has been given out since 1954, only 7 non-Americans have won that award; they are (not incl. members of the Boston Red Sox team that won the award in 2004):
1954 Roger Bannister, Track & Field 1959 Ingemar Johannson, Boxing 1970 Bobby Orr, Ice Hockey 1973 Jackie Stewart, Auto racing 1982 Wayne Gretzky, Ice Hockey 1987 2 of 8 "Athletes That Care" Bob Bourne Ice Hockey & Kip Keino, Track & Field
One has to wonder why Michael Schumacher, Pele, or the five time winners of the Tour de France (Mercyx, Hinault & Indurain) did not win the award especially in light of the fact that the award was awarded to two American winners (le Mond & Armstrong)? Did Joe Paterno in 1986 truly rate as the "Sportsman of the Year" over Maradonna who put on one of the greatest perfomances in the history of the World Cup?
This year the winner, I submit, should be a no-brainer, that is if he was an American,; namely, Roger Federer! In fact he would probably win unanimously if he was. Too bad really because barring injury we are probably watching the greatest tennis player of our era, if not of all time.
The year isn't over yet. By the end of the year we'll all be talking about LaDainian Tomlinson and his astronomical numbers.
That being said, I agree wholeheartedly about Zidane. A player, in the twilight of his career, playing some of the best soccer I have ever seen from any player at the peak of their careers, running his team that no one placed in the finals to the cusp of the World Cup.
Best player on the biggest sporting stage. Deserves any and every accolade. Anyone who thinks of the headbutt first didn't watch his mesmerizing play throughout the tournament. He belongs in pantheon of soccer gods.
Zidane deserves the award because on the greatest stage in the world, he put sports in context. He is a proud man that is by all means French. In order to understand his headbut is to understand current French culture. Zidane is a French national hero because not only did he give it all for his team, but because with one blow from his unaccepting forehead he said no to racism. On a French national team filled with immigrants that many French would berate on a street corner, he said no. Sports are important, but in that moment he used sports to transcend into a hero for all french immigrants or "etrangeres."
Why is it that so many of the posters don't understand that Grant means something different from "Sportsman of the Year" when he says "Sports Man of the Year"? He devoted a whole paragraph to it! Does anybody read these articles before posting?
Ah yes, those credulous NYT folks. Who might think that FIFA athletes might not have a bag of insults to hurl at their opponents? Who might look at M's behavior both in the 06 World Cup and previous FIFA matches? Yes, we all know, 'cause you say so, that it was a sister joke, nothing racial, and certainly not the culmination of a series of transgressions, nipple-twistings, and otherwise thuggish behavior on the part of M.
Silly me. Seriously, though, the fact that most of us in the USA have no clue as to what racial and political reality is in Europe does not justify you demeaning M's ability to know, understand, and act on his knowledge of history. The fact that we are generally ignorant as to these issues doesn't mean that soccer players are.
You didn't understand what happened. That's about all the news that is fit to print in this case.
"Make no mistake, if the head butt hadn't happened, if France had gone on to defeat Italy on penalty kicks, then Zidane would have deserved the Sportsman of the Year award even more than Roger Federer (who I'm sure won't win, either)."
That has got to be the dumbest thing I have ever read in sports writing. Zidane is a cheap shot artist has been. In the World Cup, he scored on 2 penalty shots and a third goal against Spain in the last minute that was basically a gimme. So nothing special. He missed a crucial header in the extra time in the final and then assaults another player. He wasn't even in the top 5 players on his team. On the other hand, Federer dominated his sport for the 3rd year in a row and is 246-15 in those 3 years. There is no one even close in comparison in the history of tennis in a 3 year period. And Federer is the classiest guy in sports. Not tennis. Sports. And Zidane "deserved" the award more than Federer? Such ignorance from a sports writer is sad.
Yes, Federer may dominate his sport completely, but who cares, it wasnt noteworthy this year, maybe next, but Zinedane Zidane was CLEARLY the Sportsman of the Year. Zidane stands for honor, against racism, and national pride. SI will only affirm its American bias if it picks LT or Vince Young, whereas Zidane irrefutably is a greater figure and therefore made a greater impact this year.
How many Europeans know Vince Young? Africans? Asians? South Americans? None. But they all know Zinedane - as Captain of the France he won the World Cup Player of the Tournament, winning the Golden Ball, and standing up against racism by fellow Frenchmen against blacks such as Claude Makalele and Patrick Vieira.
SI must select Zidane, there is no question. To do otherwise would just be ignorant, plain and simple.
you want to talk about impact in the sports WOLRD, you need to step back from your sportscenter for a second. as an american, i love having 24 hours sports on tv, radio and internet...but the problem is its allows us to forget what the world sees. Zizou is one of the top 3 most recognized footballers in the world, and everyone knew that was his last match and chance for glory. sure it made all the sports outlets that night, but it made headlines all over the world. people, literally, didnt know if they should condone his actions as a man defending honor, or sentence him to being blasted by every god fearing person. one thing none of us can answer truthfully and honestly, atleast without 100% conviction, is was what he did right? were his actions something we would hope our sons would do? he took violent action in the single most watched sports event in the world! but ya know what??..he is the pele of his era, and everyone in the world who knows the sport understands that even the most passionate players know when somethings step outside the lines. great article, and great point. he is truly the sports man of the year.
Hi there, I'm a French journalist and I gotta say that I agree with Grant.
First of all I gotta say that I've never been a huge fan of Zidane's.
Sure he belongs to the five best soccer players of all time, but he's drawn so much attention from the media in Europe that it kind of annoyed me down the road.
Thing is, Zidane had an amazing World Cup, he was marvelous against Spain and Portugal, above Ronaldinho versus Brazil and the only player that mattered during the matchup vs Italy.
Sure the fact that he headbutted Materazzi overshadowed his amazing resurrection. But, it only added more drama to his character and to his career. And this is what sports is all about: drama, intensity etc. At least according to me...
You guys in America have always praised perfect athletes, on and off the pitch. For example, Duncan and Robinson did not win the Sportsmen of the year award by a landslide. Sure they had won a trophy that year, but that was not enough according to a lot of fans. But these two players happen to be good citizens, known for doing a lot for their community, helping charity etc. It kinda helped them grabbing this award and convincing a lot of angry fans.
Zidane has always been a gentleman off the pitch, on the field he was playing like God but reacting to other players' taunts as a human.
No matter what happened, Zidane is still a role model over here. Maybe he doesn't meet american standards. He's a class act, has always given lots of money to charity and stuff.
Of course the end of his career was brutal, but to me it only emphasized that no athlete can be perfect. In a way this is funny that a lot of people blamed Zidane for what he did, when actually Materazzi's the guy who trash talked him during the whole game. Some people even said that Materazzi had done an amazing job wearing down Zidane by taunting him until he went nuts. Are these sports values ? I don't think so.
Zidane was amazing for a month, during one of the two biggest world sports events and that's the only thing that matters.
Zidane is a fool who lost his cool and cost his team the World Cup. He was not defending the 'estranger', give me a break, he simply lost control of himself. If you or I lose control, we go to jail, if it's Zidane, he gets tons of publicity and 'even more famous in France.' Just like Wahl says, Zidane WAS a great player but now he's just a joke.
I asked a Div. I soccer coach who lives in my town about it, and he said that Marco Materazzi is known throughout the soccer world as a thug and one of the dirtiest players in the game. Although it was just a "yo mama joke", you can bet it was said only after many other physical and verbal taunts and harassments throughout the match by Materazzi.
Zidane showed courage for standing up for his family's honor and not caring about the aftermath of his actions. He showed that he was more than just an athelete or an entertainer or a soccer player; he showed a human side that few of us possess. He gave up everything for his family, and I think that's why Zidane is more popular than ever right now. Like Don Corleone said, "A man that doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man." I only hope that I could have the same courage if I was ever in the same situation.
Now that Zizou's carrer is over, I look back on his final game realize that the event from the game that I will always remember is not Zidane's headbutt, but his goal. Who else in the world would have both the courage to attempt a chip a penalty shot in the World Cup Final and the skill to make it?! In addition, with his header in overtime, he was a fingertip away from becoming the first player to score two goals in two World Cup Finals. He left everything out on the pitch. I have nothing but respect for him.
Between his performance in the final, in addition to the rest of his world cup, I can do nothing but agree with your vote for Zidane as Sportsman of the Year.
It is Roger Federer or no one. Zidane should not even be mentioned given his actions. Federer should have won in 2004 and 2005. For 2006, his results were totally dominating, I won't get into the stats, plus he is a gentleman on and off the court. It is time for sports illustrated to grow up and make the right choice, not the North American choice.
Grant you've written some damn things over the years. For example calling the Azzurri a fading world power, then they go and win the world cup. I believe you are just enamored by Zizou, and there is absolutely nothing sportsman worthy of Zizou this past year. Even if you included his on the field performance, there is nothing makes him deserve any award. It's encouraging to know your vote, or your say doesn't influence any voting process. Looking forward to read your columns!
Baseball pitchers routinely throw at batters and bench clearing BRAWLS occur every summer...basketball as well. A hockey game actually stops, referees included, when fights begin as fans cheer with rabid enthusiasm. The violence in American Football is a whole other issue. It would be nice for those who are so "offended" by Zidane's action to speak out so strongly about the accepted violence in these American sports. It's "Sports Man" and not "Sportsman"! Grant Whal makes a strong case...Federer as well. But nowhere has Tiger Woods been mentioned. He's my vote with Zizou as runner-up! Vive Ziziou!
Unbelievable how there are so many Zidane apologists out there. He is a cheap shot artist who should be honored with Sportsman of the Year? Are you people crazy? The World Cup is my favorite sports event, but just because of its popularity, SI should vote for this thug? Why? Because he scored 2 penalty kicks. Wow, that's really tough. Someone says Federer dominated but it wasn't noteworthy. Again, someone missed their medication. He was 92-5 this year, 259-15 in the last 3 years, being called the best ever in tennis history even now. I guess that doesn't compare to an overrated thug head butting a guy in the World Cup final and tarnishing his name forever.
No way Zidane deserves the Sportman of the Year. He was not even the best player of the World Cup. Andrea Pirlo the Midfielder for Italy was the Best player of the World cup. He even had a better game in the finals than Zidane. Marco Materazzi had a better game than Zidane. Materazzi scored a real goal and a great penalty. Italy deserved that world cup championship because they were robbed of two goals in regular time. It should have been 2-0 Italy. Zidane's act of idiocy was another deciding factor when he belted Marco in the chest. Perhaps he was frustrated with Marco's great play!
It is so painfully obvious that the people here calling Zidane a 'thug' (or anything to the effect) and claiming that he is an unworthy athlete are completely ignorant about soccer or about Zidane. And that's okay -- I am pretty ignorant about American football, and I don't know much about Federer either. But at least I don't run around making judgments about things I don't understand.
If you don't know soccer, please don't discuss Zidane. Don't feign to know anything about his person, his influence on the sport, or on society in general. Zidane has not only been, by general consensus, the most outstanding footballer of our generation, but has also been a consistently humble and generous human being (albeit at times a bit hot-tempered on the pitch). The headbutt was a shame, but that one act cannot overshadow his achievements as a footballer or his consistent commitment to helping the less fortunate in society.
Zidane had an amazing World Cup -- everyone will agree that his performance against Brazil was absolutely first-class. Granted, he also had his share of some less impressive performances. But Zidane's contribution to the French national team's success went far beyond what he did on the pitch. Zidane lifted France from a miserable qualifying campaign, and served as the talisman of the French team throughout. If it weren't for Zidane, I doubt France would have made it to the final. Not very many other players can claim to have had this kind of role and influence -- not even the Italian captain Cannavaro, who perhaps had a better World Cup than Zidane based on on-pitch performance alone.
In a year of the World Cup -- which is, incidentally, probably the most popular sports event in the world -- it is only fitting that tribute should be paid to the most influential athlete of the year's competition.
Well Mr. Wahl has posited a reasonable case for his "new" award. I like the fact that a FOOTBALLER is up for any overall sport award and again Mr. Wahl may be absolutely correct in his choice, I can't as say I don't follow many sports other than the "real" football. But I think if Henry Luce saw ZZ as the cover for the real SISOTY he would turn over in his grave.
Zidane is still the greatest soccer player in recent years.I don't think he should have responded the way he did ,but who can really tell me how they would have responded. And for all of you Zidane critics just take a look at all the unsportsman like things materazzi has done.
A lot of you don't get this writer's point. You have "Sportsman" and "Sports Man". Two different titles that mean very different things. So, everyone needs to relax...Zizou is not going to win this award.
Give Zidane the "Sports Man" of the year. He deserved it in 1998 but instead the judges decided to pick juiced up Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa, both of which didn't even win the world series even though Zidane took down Brazil and won the FREAKING WORLD CUP. And here it comes again, Zidane will not win because he is a football athelete. C'mon?! He took on and single handedly beat Brazil! What more can you ask? That's like Roger Federer taking on Andy Roddick, Rafael Nadal, and Blake all at once with Mark Philippousis as his only sidekick. Zidane took that Brazil game by the scruff of the neck and won it. He did that with Spain, and Portugal. End of discussion, no soccer athlete will ever win this award even during a World Cup Year. So by this elimination, the only one left to win it is Roger Federer. Thank God that the Fifa have their own separate awards, so these atheletes don't go unnoticed. Besides, ask anyone around the world and I am sure they know who Zidane is and probably won't know who Federer is, unless you go to Switzerland.
An interesting proposal, with an even more interesting argument.
Zidane is clearly a supremely skilled footballer who is at the top of his game. Part of the reason that France was in the final game can be attributed to Zidane's mastery and control of the game.
In contrast, we have, in his opponent, an athlete whose major contribution to his team's championship win was the use of crude verbal tactics to offend and distract - "trash talking" at it's most primal level.
Zidane's reaction was one that most of a normal society might have if their family was unnecessarily defamed, that of outrage and strong rebuke. It's true that today's society cannot or will not condone the physical part of the response, which resulted in Zidane looking the part of villain. He was not.
Zidane may not end up as Sportsman of the Year (precious few true candidates these days), but he should be footnoted as a stellar athlete, not for the single act that currently seems to be defining his year.
No i completely agree, Zidane is a legend because of that headbutt, I mean really...what a hero. I've never been more amused in my entire life during a sporting event. The best part was, they almost missed it...now that would have been classic. Also, he's pretty much in the top 5 soccer players ever to the play the game...enough said.
It is ridiculous to make one ill-timed foul the centerpoint of an article, especially many months after the fact. Zinedine Zidane had a great world cup and an even better career. I have no doubt that France would have failed to make it to the final were it not for Zidane's efforts. I find it amusing that, despite being Fifa World Player of the Year a record three times, a moment of passing anger has made this timeless athlete an international star. I wish for Zidane's sake that he did not commit that foul, but we should not let this overshadow a truly fantastic career. Besides all of that, his headbutt on Materazzi was about the most exciting thing in what turned out to be an incredibly boring world cup (watch the champions' league or the premiership for decent football). So thanks Zidane, for many years' worth of great goals, passes, and sportsmanship; thank you also when, in your moment of a lapse in judgment, you at least went out in spectacular fashion.