soccer

The Leroux celebration and unwritten rules of sports

Crash Davis, Bull Durham: What are you doing? Huh? What are you doing standing here? I gave you a gift, you stand here showing up my pitcher? Run, dummy!

Sports have written rules and unwritten rules. The written rules tell you the size of the field, what to do when a ball becomes defective in the course of play, what sort of socks aren’t acceptable, etc. The unwritten rules tell us so much more:

1. Hockey fights stay on the ice. The book The Code: The Unwritten Rules of Fighting and Retaliation in the NHL had all sorts of amusing anecdotes, my favorite being the one in which the guy losing a fight yells, “Loser buys the pizza.” The guy who’s winning says, “Well, I think you’re buying.” Then the losing fighter yells, “Yeah, but the winner buys the beer!”

Then there’s this, in which a veteran hockey enforcer gives an opponent a chance to impress his coaches:

I’m not saying the code makes a whole lot of sense. But it exists.

2. When a soccer player is down on the field, someone will kick the ball out of play so the trainers can run on the field. Then the ball is returned to the other side. That’s not in the written rules. Players do that on their own.

If you missed yesterday’s arguments after the USA-Canada women’s soccer match in Toronto, here’s the deal: Former Canadian U20 U19* striker Sydney Leroux, who has endured all sorts of abuse on Twitter and heard it from the crowd all day yesterday, scored a garbage-time goal for the USA and celebrated by waving the USA badge at the crowd and shushing them.

Canadian commentators weren’t happy. “Classless,” said Craig Forrest on TV. At TSN’s site, Gareth Wheeler summed up the unwritten rule in this case:

An act as such is an absolute no-no in soccer.  You don’t pay homage to the badge against your former team, let alone the country of your birth.

This rule was at the heart of yesterday’s Twitter arguments. A lot of WoSo fans insisted that they’ve seen men celebrating the same way, taunting fans, etc. Two issues with that:

1. It’s rare to see players doing such things, as Wheeler says, “against your former team, let alone the country of your birth.”

2. If, say, an English-born player did while playing for Scotland against England, that just might make the news. The ensuing riot certainly would. And you’d have plenty of English commentators calling the act “classless” or worse. I couldn’t find specific examples, but I think that’s because it just isn’t done. More common is the example of Polish-born German player Lukas Podolski, who scored twice against Poland in Euro 2008 and refused to celebrate at all.

So as with a lot of Hope Solo’s controversies, the “sexist double standard” argument doesn’t hold water. (And as someone who greatly appreciates men’s AND women’s soccer, I get rather irritated with false stereotypes in either direction, and then I tweet too much and get unfollowed by a bunch of disgruntled people. Sorry about that, though I’d also suggest getting Hootsuite and making a few lists so you can tune it out when some people in your feed start a lively discussion that you’re not enjoying. In any case, I’ll wrap it up more quickly in the future so you don’t have to adjust your timelines. All that said, I found a lot of the discussion helpful as I tried to clarify the situation, so thanks to those who stuck around.)

I haven’t seen much reaction from Canadian players (if you see more, please leave it in the comments). But here’s Christine Sinclair:

“Maybe not the classiest of moves,” Sinclair said of Leroux’s gesture. “She scored on us and an individual can do what they like. I probably wouldn’t have done the same, but we move on.”

Did the celebration arguments overshadow the game? Well, yes. But aside from Alex Morgan’s superb goals and the solid defense of 17-year-old Canadian Kadeisha Buchanan, it wasn’t much of a game. Canada brought a lot of emotion but little else.

Cathal Kelly:

Playing for the first time since that notorious night in Manchester, Canada showed little of the jump they’d displayed there. Nearly a year ago, they’d gone straight at the best team in the world. They’d played with abandon. It was a bar brawl.

Now in front of a boisterous sell-out crowd at BMO Field on Sunday afternoon, they tried to muscle the Americans out of their rhythm. This was a planned assault, and as plodding as that sounds.

Tactically, it was smart. Aesthetically, it was turgid. Functionally, it was useless.

The atmosphere was promising. The passion many WoSo fans have yearned to see at their stadiums was finally there. I thought it was clever to hear fans counting to six, a reference to the puzzling free kick that helped the USA in that Olympic semifinal, every time U.S. goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart had the ball.

So if you want me to respond to a comment, do it here. Out of deference to those who are done talking about this, I’m not going to bring it up again on Twitter.

I think the last word on Twitter should go to Heather Mitts:

Yes, they do.

Postscript: As I was writing this post, Sydney Leroux started a tweet with “When you chant racial slurs.” Plenty of Canadians, including some I know to have been at the game, vehemently deny they heard anything of that nature. If she heard it from one person one time, of course, that’s too much. But in light of Boston Breakers fans (ironically, Leroux’s NWSL team) being unfairly smeared as racist in a fairly prominent book, I’m not about to do the same thing to Canadian fans. I think we can agree that the overwhelming majority, somewhere between 95 and 99.99 percent of people in BMO, would abhor such things.

Sure, I’ve seen the video in which one guy is recorded yelling a couple of nasty (sexist, not racist, not that one is “better” than the other) words. That’s bad. But that’s not a “chant.” A chant involves many people saying and repeating the same thing.

I can’t say Leroux heard absolutely nothing, and I’m sure she’s received all sorts of abuse from random racist morons on Twitter. I don’t mean to diminish that or excuse it. But I’m not going to give any credence to the thought that racism was widespread at BMO yesterday until someone produces evidence to the contrary.

Now back to the NWSL, where we’re still taking up a collection to pay the fines of Seattle staffers complaining about a call that was, indeed, quite wrong.

*Correction: Leroux played youth soccer for Canada before FIFA adjusted its age ranges. She was on Canada’s U19 World Championship team in 2004. Some trivia: Her teammates included Robyn Gayle, Sophie Schmidt, Emily Zurrer, Jodi-Ann Robinson and Golden Boot winner Brittany Timko. Among the U.S. players: Ashlyn Harris, Rachel Buehler, Stephanie (Lopez) Cox, Becky Sauerbrunn, Amy Rodriguez, Yael Averbuch, Nikki Krzyzik, Angie Woznuk and Megan Rapinoe. Other teams: Veronica Boquete (Spain), Simone Laudehr (Germany), Celia Okoyino da Mbabi (Germany) and Marta (Brazil).

Germany needed a late equalizer and penalties to get past Nigeria in the quarterfinals, but the high-scoring team beat the USA 3-1 in the semifinals and took the title against China 2-0. Third-place game: USA 3, Brazil 0. The highlight for Canada: Coming back from 3-0 down to draw Germany 3-3 in group play.

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11 replies »

  1. This is one of those “unwritten rules” of soccer that is literally foreign to North American sports culture.

    I remember when Cristiano Ronaldo scored against Man United in the Champions League this past year. Not only did he refuse to celebrate, he actually made an apologetic gesture to the crowd.

    Can you imagine the same thing happening in American sports? Imagine Peyton Manning apologizing after throwing a touchdown against the Colts. Imagine LeBron looking sheepish and embarrassed after hitting a game-winner against the Cavs. It’s unthinkable.

    I’d say Leroux’s faux-pas can be chalked up simply to cultural illiteracy, not malevolence.

  2. I think Andrew has a good take on it. Perhaps Leroux should have known better, but I suppose she was a bit ticked off.
    Moreover, it seems to me that given how often it happens in this sport, getting on a player, repeatedly, over a period of years, for her decision is stupid, childish, and hypocritical. I would like to have been there next to someone who shouted “traitor” and said “I assume you’re yelling at Sesselman?”

  3. Maybe it is time for the unwritten rule to be “re-unwritten”. Do not blame the victim for defending themselves. Canada should take a good look at there fans despicable behavior. The Canadian soccer association has never publicly to my knowledge denounce the constant abuse dished out to Sydney Leroux. You cannot stop ignorant people, but at least they would have let their position known.

    I am sure they have been aware of this situation. They have let it festered and now it as come to a pandemic sweltering boil.

    RACISM

    Canadians are denying the racial accusations and you appear to be one of the doubters, but here is my response to that.

    I have been to many soccer events fans come in all different shapes, sizes, economic status and Ignorance Level. You wouldn’t believe the crap that spill out of people’s mouth even at the junior varsity level of sports. All i heard was booing and if it wasn’t for that video from a different level and perspective of the fans using the F and C words towards Syd we would have all thought it was just Boos. So what else did we not hear? So whether or not she heard the N word at the game or from memory of all the times she had to endure it on Twitter or any other social media, whether one person said it or two it is unacceptably and one too many.

    The Canadian Soccer association should be apologizing but they are too embarrassed to do so.

    At the end of the day at the expense of Syd and as “SAD as it is for me to say this, Canada’s women’s soccer program will grow even more and benefit once again from controversy.

    It is a good sad day in women’s soccer.

  4. Several people have sent me the c-word video. It’s reprehensible. But it’s one person, and it’s not racist. So it doesn’t support the notion of hearing “racist chants.”

    Clearly, Leroux gets racist abuse on Twitter. In some countries, tweets like that can get people arrested:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/2012/jul/31/tom-daley-twitter-abuse-law

    And Twitter has policies for dealing with abuse:

    https://support.twitter.com/articles/15794

    But again, this doesn’t fit into Leroux’s claim of “racist chants.”

    At least not from yesterday. Check out this recent tweet from Jason deVos, who’s checking into the situation:

    “The Leroux comments may, however, be in relation to an incident that occurred at Olympic qualifying in Vancouver in January 2012.”

    These things are worth investigating.

    As for the CSA — I think they can’t really apologize until it’s established that something came from the crowd. Even then, the best course of action may be to set down rules (if they don’t have them already) on abuse. They can certainly take action on racism and the c-word. Not on “Judas.”

    Beyond that, there’s only so much a federation can do to police everyone. Consider the abuse, some of it vile, Landon Donovan has received over the years from his own country’s fans. Not much USSF can do about that.

  5. CSA supporters group The Voyageurs speaks up: “We really shouldn’t need to address this, but given the firestorm created by an accusation coming from one American player this morning, a reminder to everyone: We have zero tolerance for racist behaviour. Anyone engaging in this type of behaviour is not representative of the Voyageurs, and is not welcome in our sections.”

  6. Beau – This is one of the few times I disagree with you. You’re arguing minutiae when readers have already provided evidence against your prior statements. The fact that there wasn’t “chanting” of “racist” comments doesn’t mean that Sydney Leroux holding her crest on her shirt and raising her fingers to her lips was classless. Does a word have to be repeated over and over again by several people to have the power to hurt? Not your strongest argument this time.

    In a sport where racism isn’t all that rare (no matter what FIFA would like to believe), I think that if Leroux said she heard a racist comment, she heard it. And that doesn’t mean that it had to be during her on-pitch performance – she’s probably heard them over the last five years in hotels, on the street, online.There’s a good chance she’s probably heard racist words from her fellow countrymen more often than she should.

    Given the nature of things yelled at her yesterday (c-word notwithstanding), a jersey grab and hushing gesture might actually be appropriate. She did nothing lewd. She didn’t run to the sideline and yell back. It’s rare in the women’s game for a goal celebration to be anything other than teammates piling on each other or the amusing choreographed dances of whole teams. In the men’s game you’ll see more personal celebrations ala Robben or Balotelli running to the stands and giving aggressive gestures. It’s not wrong for Leroux to hold a finger to her mouth.

    If we’re going to get so concerned with one player tell a booing audience to be quiet, then we’re holding the women’s game back. If a player cannot make a symbolic stand for herself then we’re saying she’s not worth making a stand for. And she is. And Sesselman should do the same thing back to a US crowd booing and hurling insults.

  7. I don’t mind her reaction at all. First, we are all judging it from our perspective, which is one of not having to hear very ugly comments every single day about how you’re a traitor and a b!tch for choosing to play for someone else. Eventually, Leroux was going to let that anger and hurt out, and there’s no way scoring a goal against Canada in Canada wasn’t going to be that situation. Maybe I would have more sympathy for the Canadian crowd had they, Canadian commentators, or the Canadian Soccer Fed ever come out and say that people should get off Leroux’s back for making a sporting decision that had nothing to do with her love for Canada…but they didn’t. Remember, Sydney has to hear about this crap every day. I think pointing to a badge is the least offensive thing that could have happened.

  8. “Maybe I would have more sympathy for the Canadian crowd had they, Canadian commentators, or the Canadian Soccer Fed ever come out and say that people should get off Leroux’s back for making a sporting decision that had nothing to do with her love for Canada…but they didn’t.”

    And herein lies the whole problem. This “sporting decision” is seen by Canadians as selfish, self-serving, and an affront to their country and soccer federation. THAT’S why she gets the vitriol she does (e.g. Judas and traitor…the sexist and racist derision is uncalled for and shouldn’t be defended by anyone) from them. She was already on track to reach the pinnacle of one’s footballing career, a long tenure with one’s national team, wearing the Maple Leaf but snubbed them because a country further up the footballing food chain (and for which she was eligible to play) showed interest. She doesn’t seem to understand that, and it seems neither do her supporters. The whole purpose of FIFA relaxing the cap-tie rules on youth national team appearances and allowing for one-time switches for senior international football was in response to certain European countries indiscriminately cap-tying players from their overseas departments or colonies at the YNT level, knowing full well that they wouldn’t matriculate to the country’s full national team and that those caps would make them ineligible to play for anyone else in the future. The rule was not meant to be used by a player to get their feet in the water internationally for one country while holding out hope that a country with greater pedigree might come calling. This case is similar to the Hargreaves and Rossi kerfuffles in that one country (Canada in the first case, USA in the second) is insulted because the player refuses to accept a call-up from them because they are eligible to play for a “more successful” one (England; Italy) and are wanting to maintain that eligibility. FIFA could remedy these situations in the future by modifying its current rules to allow for players to switch from one national association to another provided such a move would not be considered a “stepping stone” transfer (e.g moving from say New Zealand to Australia or Suriname to Holland; the reverse course of action would be allowed, however).

  9. @Scott: the problem isn’t the FIFA rules regarding declaring national team eligibility (the rules are in place for a reason). The problem is the Canadian reaction to Leroux’s choice. Yes, you can be disappointed – or even feel downright betrayed – but if you decide to act like a child about it then you are inviting criticism.

    If it is true that Canadians feel as if, “This ‘sporting decision’ is…selfish, self-serving, and an affront to their country and soccer federation” then I would say that Canadians are being way too irrational about it. Of course it’s selfish and self-serving, it’s Leroux’s future and her decision to make. And only the most delusional or irrational Canadians could actually feel as if it’s an “affront” to their country. That’s the kind of fake moral outrage that makes the internet so unpleasant to navigate – let’s keep it out of women’s soccer.

    This reminds me of the ridiculous hate-fest aimed at Giuseppe Rossi for choosing to play for Italy rather than the United States. Rossi always knew he wanted to play for Italy, and Leroux has previously stated that she knew at a very young age that she wanted to play for the United States.

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