“You’re a fucking pussy. I’ll fucking kill you if you get up,” he said with a self-important atavistic grin on his face, filled with the same malicious intent of most sexist diatribe.
I was playing in a soccer game against the Laurentian Voyageurs and I had just finished telling that particular opposing defender that he was in fact not going to university, but attending a high school. So as an epic case of dangle-itis (a deking frenzy) struck me à la Cristiano Ronaldo, he decided to fly into my ankle like a shot down Spitfire. I didn’t deserve it at all – I was just being an asshole like any other athlete I’ve ever known or competed with or against. Talking trash is just a part of the game; nothing personal, just another dehumanizing tool necessary in psychologically beating your opponent. I never said it was nice.
What can I say, not every athlete is like me. Some are honourable. But me, I’m team Materazzi.
Soon after, I was lying on one of those boring blue mats you see in gym corners – the kind people sweat on then fake sanitize with spray bottles filled with water and blue food colouring. Some athletic therapist poked and prodded my leg as I squirmed in agony. She had that “oh-you’re-pretty-fucked” look on her face. She was also interested in the calcified lumps running up and down my legs, which were – as I explained – historical records of my often-punished talent for dangling frustrated opponents. This time, one of those mouth-breathers really got me. I can only imagine it was a thank you for me being better than him, or just a patented move of the pack of talentless quagmires that is the Laurentian Voyageurs varsity men’s soccer team.
The verdict (which I didn’t know at the time): I broke my ankle – chipped a finger-sized splinter off the bastard, in fact. It was pretty obvious just by looking at it that something unholy had possessed my ankle, as a water bubble suddenly sprouted out of nowhere at the top of it.
“You better get your fucking ass back out there, McCooch,” spat my searingly infuriated and overgrown Scottish badger of a coach. He never once pronounced my name right in the three years I knew him; instead he Scottish-ized it. Then again, he was also the type of guy who still used phrases like “coloured boy” for African-Americans.
We were playing a man down for ten minutes, waiting to see if I would be resurrected and cometh once again upon the holy Laurentian Soccer Field. If I had anything to do with it, which I didn’t, my answer would have been “fuck right off coach.” But as I said, he was a Scottish badger: rarely seen in Canada and always to be feared everywhere. He had essentially issued me the “shit-or-get-off-the-pot” ultimatum – the most feared by any athlete in a team environment. If you don’t play, or do not continue do so at a high level, somebody is going to take your spot right from under your nose. A game off is an opportunity for an underling to snatch what he thinks is rightfully his. And you hate him for it. And he hates you for it. That’s why I have a laugh anytime a professional athlete talks about “the guys” or the artificial camaraderie I consider a plague on a largely adversarial locker room subculture that persists in most sports.
That’s generally why you’re a weak and inferior athlete if you allow things like broken bones or concussions to hamper your play. Because the biggest and baddest motherfucker on the team, the guy everyone wants to be, will play missing half a leg and some fingers to be the best. In my experiences, that guy is also psychotic. But everyone else is cannon fodder.
“I can’t do it,” I said, and my decision was final.
He walked away to the bench without even looking at me, barked another name in Scottish and I never played again for the rest of the season. By the Laws of Manliness I am one of the dreaded “pussies.” But I’ve broken way too many bones and had way too many concussions to adhere to some over-enthused Rudy code of ethics or to give a shit. Glory is a temporary jolt of testosterone, adrenaline, and endorphins running through your veins, eager for a way out.
I still run into old teammates who start recalling the glory years and, not all, but some, talk about the permanent damage they’ve sustained to their bodies because of their athletic careers. Back issues, ankle operations, knees, the works. My nose is visibly crooked, like a Swiss ski slope, and on a cold damp day when the rain seeps into my shoes I feel the brittle demands of my old coach, right in my ankle.
That being said, it could just be a bad case of dangle-itis.