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So the sports world was all over this story since Sunday night: What did Marco Materazzi, a defender on Italy’s 2006 World Cup championship team, say to France’s captain Zinedine Zidane that caused Zidane to viciously head-butt Materazzi in the final match, in overtime–getting him booted out of the game?

Here’s the latest. In my last blog posting, I mentioned the rumor that Materazzi insulted Zidane’s mother. It got worse last night. The new rumor is that Materazzi called Zidane a “dirty terrorist.” Zidane is the son of Algerian immigrants with a Muslim background. And European soccer, I am discovering, still has a reputation of racial slurs and bigotry among fans and players.

Materazzi defended himself, saying he never called Zidane a terrorist or mentioned his mother. “It was the kind of insult you hear dozens of times and just slips out of the ground,” he told Italian newspaper La Grazetta dello Sport.

Ok. So we’ve got a he said/no comment thing going on here. (Zidane has yet to say what exactly happened, what Materazzi said, and why he so ignobly lost his cool at such a crucial moment.)

But it gets more interesting. BBC Live Radio Five got a deaf lip reader to analyze Materazzi’s mouth when the provocative insult was let loose. She interpreted Materazzi as saying “you’re the son of a terrorist whore.”

Whoa.

That’s a double whammy–your motha, and you’re a terrorist. Then BBC’s Ten O’Clock News called in experts as well, and these guys determined that the insult was something to the effect of “an ugly death to you and your family.” (Zidane’s mother had been admitted to the hospital that day.)

Well, whatever this insult was, FIFA will investigate the red card. But I have to wonder–what will come of it? Say the insult was a racial slur. Do you reverse the outcome of a championship game for that? Don’t get me wrong. Racial slurs and dirty insults are horrible, classless, and deserve no place on the soccer field, in the stands, and for that matter, anywhere in the world.

But what about Zidane’s reaction? This head-butt was ugly. Is physical violence ever the right course of action? Zidane does have a penchant for hotheadedness in play, getting red and yellow cards for brutish acts in a number of past matches.

I don’t have the answers. But I think Fox Sports commentator Michael Rosenberg said it well: “[Zidane] had many years to get back at Materazzi–to send compromising photos to Materazzi’s wife, put bananas in the tailpipe of his Ferrari, walk up behind him and give him a wedgie, whatever else he wanted to do. But first he had to play 10 minutes of soccer. And he couldn’t wait.”

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