Monday, September 14, 2015

Top soccer player's drunk driving accident, funny reactions

The UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying group A included the Netherlands and Turkey that were guessed to be "clear winners" who would certainly qualify. However, shockingly for many soccer fans, it was Iceland and Czechia that became the earliest teams to qualify for the European tournament next year. Latvia and Kazakhstan, the other two teams in the group, have confirmed their role of underdogs.

Czech fans received the happy news about the qualification on September 6th when the national team went to Latvia. It needed to win for the certainty and it did win, 2-to-1. Both Czech goals were scored by players from the #1 Czech soccer city, my hometown of Pilsen: Vladimír Darida who has played in Pilsen for 15 years before he moved to Germany (now: Hertha BSC) and David Limberský. And it's the latter who is the main hero and villain of this blog post.

Up to last Friday, David Limberský was the new captain of FC Viktoria Pilsen, the winner of the Synot League in 3 of 5 recent years. The previous captain was the always funny, mature enough, and a little bit chunky ex-Prager Pavel Horváth who finally retired as a player when this new season began.

For David Limberský, the captain who followed Horváth, the sense of humor is important, too. He loves to make fun out of everything. And he loves to enjoy life, too. This player – who was actually born here in Pilsen, unlike most of Viktoria's players – is among the two most well-paid Czech soccer players.

He has bought a white Maserati Gran Turismo as well as a black Bentley. See the picture at the top. Pretty nice cars.

I have to get to the key story quickly: A few days ago, on September 9th, he was drunk in Prague-Smíchov, a suburb on the Western side close to Pilsen, and crashed into a wall. His Bentley was largely destroyed – the damages exceed $50,000 (a million of crowns).

No injuries or death took place, however. Cops were waiting. Limberský screamed at them and threatened them. They didn't surrender so he decided to run away. However, the top athlete was quickly caught by a cop with a doughnut and a coffee in his hand – a fact that is probably as embarrassing as Limberský's moral failure. They measured his alcohol content in blood to be 0.15% – much higher than the zero that is allowed in Czechia. ;-)

Because this story was said to damage the good name of the team, Limberský also had to pay an unprecedented fine to the team, another $50,000 (a million crowns), and he was stripped of the captaincy. The new captain is Václav Procházka (who was born in Rokycany, East of Pilsen, so he is "almost" a native, too).

On Friday night, Viktoria played Příbram, a team of a smaller town in between Prague and Pilsen, and Pilsen won 4-to-0. Two of the goals were scored by Limberský – quite a suggestion that his new villain status has turned him into an even better player than before. After he scored the nice first goal, he celebrated by "playing with the steering wheel", see the video above. It's a part of his image, he is making fun of it, and the gesture was undoubtedly provocative.

You may be sure that some people – including fans in Pilsen – were genuinely offended (a poll suggests that 89% of readers find his steering wheel gesture offensive). This fun suggests that you can't believe his repentance a day earlier. You know what? Obviously, you shouldn't believe that he was sincere when he was apologizing. He was apologizing only because he was forced to do so. Do you really have any doubt? Why should someone be upset about the insincerity when he was clearly forced to say something he didn't believe?

He clearly does enjoy his fancy cars, the freedom to drive them, his freedom to occasionally violate the law and make fun of the policemen, and even the (negative) publicity ignited by such stunts. He apologized simply because he was at risk that if he didn't, he could lose his job.

If someone were injured or even killed, it would be terrible and some serious punishment would be desirable. But if you look at the car crash calmly, nothing serious has happened – except to Limberský's material wealth. And he can live with that. The total damages including the unprecedented huge fine correspond to something like two monthly salaries he was recently getting. It's not negligible but it's in no way deadly, either. If you destroy your Bentley, it may be frustrating, but if you realize that you need just a month or two to earn enough money to pay for that, it may actually be a new source of optimism for you.

Now, as you almost certainly believe me, I have almost nothing to do with this exuberant material life, excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages, extremely fancy or other cars, and stuff like that. And even my cheeky conversations with the policemen have always been a bit more restrained. ;-) This arguably gives me some impartiality needed to credibly say that this moralization about Limberský's not-so-serious car crash is inappropriate.

It's the job for the police and court to arrest him if it is needed. The rules are such that in principle, he may be jailed for up to 3 years for the driving under the influence of alcohol. I think that such a punishment is way too much for everyone, let alone a top soccer player. But it's not the job of the soccer officials, sports journalists, or fans to play the role of police or courts. It seems clear to me that when this player isn't behind the bars when an important match begins, he should play. Doing anything else means a loss of meritocracy. It means a reduction of the teams' chances to win.

Alternatively, one may try to build the idea in which all top athletes live like monks or Mahatma Gandhi or something like that. Perhaps they're not allowed to spend their significant wages in the usual exuberant ways at all. But if you introduced this policy, the quality of the soccer teams – and of assorted sports competitions – would dramatically decrease. After all, if you prevent the athletes from spending the money in the most obvious way they may want, it's almost like not paying them the money at all. The money is the freedom to afford things that cost the money. No freedom to spend the money de facto means no money.

There may be some athletes who are this reliable. But a great percentage of top athletes has this extra temperament. They have tons of excess physical energy. They want to do things like driving strong cars. They want to drink. They want to show themselves that they may provoke a cop, too. It's a part of the package. When it comes to non-sport characteristics, I think it's fair to say that athletes are similar to average people of the same age who want to enjoy their lives in a multi-dimensional way.

Top athletes have done a lot of terrible things, violated the laws in many ways, murdered their girlfriends, killed lots of known and unknown people in car accidents, and so on.

A part of this great intolerance towards Limberský (incidentally, already before the crash, he was the most hated figure at the stadium of AC Sparta Prague, the country's #2 team, who scream hostile slogans whenever Limberský touches the ball on that stadium – because of some controversial filming and referees' decisions) stems from the totally ludicrous illusion that is being carefully built that the athletes are also people who are extraordinarily good from the moral perspective.

But I think that everyone who hasn't lost his contact with reality knows that this is just a naive myth. Perhaps, it's something that people want to be true – these top players are the best people from every point of view. And the P.R. machinery around the athletes may work hard to strengthen the illusion that they're morally superior, too. But all of this is clearly rubbish, at least statistically. They have been heavily selected by criteria that brutally depend on their physical strength, speed, and similar virtues. There exists absolutely no sensible reason to expect that they're better human beings than the average from a moral viewpoint.

Limberský has violated the law but he has only harmed himself, materially, and he can clearly live with that. It's sort of inspiring that he is still able to make fun of the events, despite the material loss and despite the risk that some overenthusiastic judges in the sports environment will fire him altogether.

It seems obvious to me that it would be a significant loss for FC Viktoria Pilsen or the Czech national team if either of the teams didn't allow him to play. People should get used to the fact that top athletes are no moral or intellectual role models. Most of them are stupid as a doorknob (their rhetorical skills are usually as pathetic as those of an average person on the street; you need exceptions like Jaromír Jágr who are at least "spiritually" interesting folks – but Jágr was also a gambling addict) and their behavior resembles that of the wild teenagers even when they're much older than 20. But they may play soccer and do similar things very well and that's what the sports fans should care about most.

Whether the driving under the influence may finally be settled with a huge fine only is something that should be left to the police and the courts. And I obviously think that the answer is Yes, it should, too.

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