After a classic battle (as all games seem to have been in the 2014 World Cup), Colombia’s golden boy, James Rodriguez, was in tears. Colombia’s storybook journey in the World Cup ended abruptly courtesy of a 2-1 victory by Brazil. In a physical match that saw Neymar get carted off with a fractured vertebrae and no-calls by officials, you couldn’t blame Rodriguez.
Klose, but no cigar.
As Rodriguez wept, David Luiz and Dani Alves of Brazil went to console Rodriguez, after the striker electrified the World Cup with his six goals, two assists, and virtually carried Colombia to the quarterfinals. Luiz applauded Rodriguez and asked the crowd to join in.
As Luiz hugged and consoled Rodriguez, something along the lines of “trade jerseys?” was mentioned and both men took of their respective team jerseys and swapped them. They embrace and Luiz and Rodriguez walked away, arm-in-arm, Rodriguez wiping tears from his eyes with the jersey of another country draped over his shoulder.
It was the most touching moment of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and it was the most class seen in this year’s World Cup. The tradition of swapping jerseys dates back to 1931 when France beat England for the first time. The French, jubilated from their victory, asked the Englishmen if they would swap jerseys as keepsakes for their victory. The English obliged and the tradition of trading jerseys was born.
But Luiz and Rodriguez weren’t the only ones to complete a trade. Croatia pummeled Cameroon 4-0 in their group play match and Cameroon’s Stephane Mbla and Croatia’s Ivan Rakitic not only traded their jerseys. The players traded their shorts, pioneering a new way to display respect and remembrance in the sport of soccer.
Soccer isn’t alone though. Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions took it upon himself to bring the soccer tradition to the NFL. During the 2013 season, Johnson traded jerseys with Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green and Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown.
“I can’t tell when I first started doing it,” said Johnson in an interview with the Associated Press. “I’ve got eight to ten hanging up and eventually I’m going to get them signed and put up in my basement.”
It’s cool to see the players engage in this trade after hard fought contests. The trade displays respect and reveres players who take part in the act. Rodriguez was unheard of before the World Cup began. Now, after six goals and two assists in four games, he not only caught the attention and respect of the worldwide audience captivated by his play, he caught the attention and respect of fellow soccer players, as predicated by Luiz.
The same applies to Johnson’s respect for the youth of Green and Brown. The jerseys become a part of a collection for the players to remember great matches they took part in throughout their professional careers. They are a keepsake, a talisman of sorts to commemorate respect and admiration for sports.
The same, however, can’t be said for fans.
Fans have had a history of defacing jerseys and disrespecting them. Do a quick search of ‘fans burn jersey’ on Google Images and you’ll see images of fans setting flames to jerseys they once wore proudly or purchased just for the sake of burning them to go viral on the internet. The most recent occurrence of the pyromania epidemic sweeping the sports world was on Friday when LeBron James announced he was going home to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
It was like the phrase “I’m coming home,” was a welcoming for Miami Heat fans to take James’ Heat jersey and set it ablaze (no pun intended). These fans, who once revered James for bringing 2 NBA championships to Miami, now turned on him in a blaze of infamy. Cleveland isn’t wearing the white hat though. Images of Cleveland fans wearing tattered James’ Cavalier jerseys surfaced on the internet, reminding us that in 2010, Cleveland did the same thing Miami did. Out of spite for James’ infamous “Decision,” they burned James’ jersey to show their disdain for James turning his back on his hometown.
During the 2013 NFL season, fans participated in burning jerseys as well, the most notable being Houston Texans fans burning then-starting quarterback Matt Schaub’s jersey after Schaub threw a pick-six for a third straight week, resulting in another loss for Houston. How bad was this act of arson? The fan paid 200 dollars to buy a Schaub jersey just to burn it moments later…I’m not making this up, look at the YouTube video.
And in the 2014 World Cup, where soccer fans are known to be brash, following Germany’s 7-1 thrashing of Brazil, Argentina fans saw fit to burn the Brazilian flag. The rivalry between the two South American countries is well documented, but burning another country’s flag is a sign of pure hatred for the country and a crime in many countries, including Argentina and Brazil! Before Brazil’s game with Germany, Argentinian fans mocked Neymar’s injury by hoisting a fake spinal cord and chanting “Aca tenemos la columna de Neymar!” which translates to “Here we have the spine of Neymar.”
Burning jerseys, sewing jerseys to represent the number of quarterbacks a franchise has had, defacing murals devoted to players, the list is endless. Fans have a storied history of displaying disrespect to their teams, their rivals, and current/former players of their teams.
But why? Fans aren’t the ones engaging in 90 minutes of intense competition and running over six miles on a soccer field for the love of their country. Fans aren’t the ones throwing the football on the field. Fans aren’t the ones deciding what team an athlete should play for. We boo. We cheer. That’s it. We can yell and scream for 90 minutes just like the teams playing on the field act like sworn enemies for 90 minutes. But when the final whistle sounds, fans should engage in the respect players engage.
Keep those jerseys, not as painful reminders, but as a remembrance to the joy you shared when your favorite player was on your team. Don’t yell and scream at a fan of a rival team after the game. Share a beer or a hot dog and laugh about “painful” memories of your teams rivalry. And for goodness sake, don’t burn another country’s flag or poke fun at a player’s injury. It’s just not cool. Cry if you must and allow yourself to be angry, but don’t allow the anger to consume you to the point of no return.
My words may be foolish, but from showering an innocent fan with beer in Chicago to sending death threats to young African-American basketball players in Michigan, fan participation has been a thorn to the game that needs to be cut down. It doesn’t make sports great. It gives sports a black eye. You want to know what makes sports great?
Soccer players, after contesting in an intense game, trade jerseys at the end of a game make sports greater. Coach K walking into Mercer’s locker room and congratulating them after his Duke Blue Devils lost make sports greater. Mark Herzlich, beating cancer and becoming a Super Bowl champion, make sports greater.
Burning a jersey, defacing a player’s monument, hate mail/tweets, and disrespecting another team doesn’t make sports great. If so, then we shouldn’t teach sportsmanship to pee-wee leagues should we? Fans, like myself, shouldn’t take it so seriously. Yes, it’s more than a game for many of us, but if the players, coaches and teams, who make their living off of sports, aren’t blowing up and trading blows after a game on the field, no reason we should do the same.