Bondy: No excuse for vile behavior
Saturday, August 22, 2009
For the sake of making a point, letís pretend Ron Artest is a U.S. soccer player. Now letís visualize something more realistic: Heís involved in a shoving match with a Mexican player.
Artestís reaction is a confusing attempt at passiveness. He lies down near the corner flag with his hands clasped under his head.
Only this isnít a basketball arena in Detroit, and getting hit with one beer is the least of Artestís worries.
Lying within throwing distance of Azteca Stadiumís vile fans, Artest is pelted with at least five beers, two cups of urine, a bag of vomit and three batteries.
Artest tries to run into the crowd but is blocked by a moat and a barbed wire fence. The place is a war zone. Security either doesnít care or wonít dare venture outside of the aisles. Artestís only option is to run back to the U.S. sideline and hose off the excrement.
Then he trots back on the field ó 7,200 feet above sea level ó and attempts to win a World Cup qualifier.
Welcome to the life inside CONCACAFís trenches. It requires guts, evasive instincts and the kind of self control that Artest or any other professional athlete never will have to summon.
You canít punch the fans because you canít get to them. You canít complain because nobody will listen. According to witnesses speaking to Yahoo.com after the Aug. 12 World Cup qualifier, one Mexican fan decided to chug a beer, stick a finger in his mouth to regurgitate that beer, and then chuck the cardboard cup at U.S. striker Landon Donovan as he took a corner kick. His friend did the same with a cup of fresh urine.
The behavior absolutely is despicable, and absolutely unexplainable. There is no reason one of richest soccer federations in the world should allow such foul conduct. But itís commonplace in Azteca Stadium.
The Americans have dealt with it for years in a place they never have won, and they will continue to deal with it as long as spectators can hurl objects without repercussion. For the safety of a group of traveling U.S. fans, riot-squad guards had to circle them to form a shield.
If Juventus has to play in an empty stadium because its fans are racist (as it did last season), Mexico should do the same for bodily fluids finding their way onto the pitch.
Aug. 12 was the first time I covered a U.S.-Mexico game at Azteca Stadium and, although my experience pales in comparison to that of the players, I certainly got a taste.
There was no press box in a stadium that seats more than 100,000. No (working) Internet. No barrier between journalists and inebriated fans calling us, "gringos."
One colleague was forced to write a story while a man in face-paint ó standing about four feet from the press area ó screamed in his face and gestured obscenities.
We adapted, of course, just as Charlie Davies did by halting his goal celebration because of flying objects. By the time the third beer rained down on the press area, we learned to cover our laptops first, our heads second. Azteca can be navigated as long as you donít mind the smell of stale beer.
But it shouldnít be like this. And American players should stop calling it "a unique environment." Itís an inexcusable environment.