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Saturday, July 15, 2006

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Zidane -- a bit of the old cow


Many people have been left perplexed by the performance of French soccer player Zinedine Zidane in the 110th minute of the World Cup final. Provoked by Italian Marco Materazzi, Zidane turned around and head butted the Italian so hard, he knocked him down.

News photo
Two beach-goers demonstrate a proper Japanese-style head bonk. AMY CHAVEZ PHOTO

Yep, head-butted. Everyone is asking why Zidane would have done this. Even the French coach doesn't know why he'd behave in such a way, especially in Zidane's farewell game. But I know why he did it.

Zidane was simply having a cow moment. Materazzi was lucky he didn't get hurt. Imagine what would have happened if Zidane had been wearing his horns.

You see, Zidane was planning on retiring from soccer after the World Cup. There he was, the captain of the team -- head of the herd -- in overtime already, when he should have already been out to pasture.

In the 110th minute of the game, Zidane was tired and short-tempered, and running around on all that green grass! It's no wonder he turned into a bull for a few seconds.

The referees already knew of Zidane's cowlike tendencies. In the 1998 World Cup, he "stomped" on an opponent. Not only that, but he has a history of headbutting while playing with Juventus. Therefore, I suspect the referee had the red card out of his pocket long before the incident, dangling it behind Materazzi, causing Zidane to charge. Ole! Ole!

Or maybe, Zidane was just tired of the soccer touch, so to speak. You know what I'm talking about: That neck thing the soccer players do to each other.

Hugging? Okay. A tussle of the hair on the head? Okay. But this touching on the neck? No one does this!

Yet every moment, these guys seem to be putting their hand on another player's neck and leaving it there for a moment. I mean, why the neck? Why not, for example, the arm pit instead? I've only seen this neck touching in soccer, and I think I'd rather be head-butted than have someone constantly fondling my sweaty neck.

Perhaps it's a cultural thing. And if it is, I was glad to see that the Japanese soccer team didn't take their cultural habits to the pitch.

As a rule, the Japanese don't touch each other. Even the Japanese bow offers a bit of distance between two people. If you've ever tried to hug a Japanese person, you know they are not very huggable. They simply don't know how to do it, so stiffen up like a tree when someone hugs them. However, they often "bonk" each other on the head to show affection or amusement.

While other Asian countries consider the head the most sacred part of the body and thus avoid touching someone's head, the Japanese go around bonking their friends on the head all the time.

For foreigners, this is disconcerting to watch, especially when teachers do it to students.

But don't misinterpret it as hitting someone on the head. It is not a full-hand whack. It's a more playful gesture, made by holding the hand flat and the fingers extended, then quickly bonking the student across the head with just the fingers.

It is much like men in the West may give their buddies a punch in the arm or the way a father might do so to his son while saying "C'mon sport!"

And yes, some men always punch too hard, just as some people give too firm a handshake. So surely some Japanese people like to hit their friends on the head a little too hard as well.

Which is why I'm all for the head butt. It seems pretty harmless and what the heck, it just looks like more fun. Go ahead, have a cow moment: Ole! Ole!



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