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Honesty and Integrity in U.S. Soccer

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Image courtesy brightsidelive.com

Image courtesy brightsidelive.com

Growing up I played a lot of soccer. As my Dad likes to recount, he used to show up to my games before I really played competitively, in a youth league where we were still learning, mostly just sitting in the grass. Call it one of those silly things that parents do or cognitive and identity development; I felt that my years growing up playing soccer helped me to become the sportsman that I am today; someone who believes in honesty and sportsmanship, regardless of which way the point goes.

Fast forward two decades and Brazil is playing in their 2014 World Cup opener against Croatia. Fredrerico Chaves Guedes, one of Brazil’s forwards, is lightly bumped on the shoulder near the top of the penalty area. Fred, as Mr. Guedes is known, flings himself to the ground while swinging his arms around and screaming for a foul. The fans howl, the referee calls a penalty. The penalty shot is good, and Brazil used the point to beat Croatia. Not only has Croatia been cheated, but we — the people of the world — have been cheated, too.

There is an emerging discussion on sportsmanship in how the U.S. soccer team plays. Some say that this theatrical effort is now the norm, and that the U.S. players should participate, especially on the international state — after all, that’s how the other teams play. Others call it cheating, plain and simple. I’m inclined to call it the latter. After all, growing up, while playing on the soccer fields of the YMCA and at my school, we were always taught that honor was the expectation, not an idealistic concept. When people got hurt, we kneeled down where we were and waited for their injury to be resolved. We certainly didn’t sneak along to put ourselves into a better position for when play resumed.

This same discussion is often held on the recreation yard of FCI Petersburg — the medium-security federal prison where I am incarcerated. I play in both a soccer league and in an Ultimate Frisbee league. The soccer league is fairly honorable, with only a little complaining about being bumped. There are no presentations of twisting, turning, falling, flailing, and screaming at the slightest provocation — as appears to be the norm at the World Cup.

The Ultimate Frisbee games, on the other hand, sadly do not hold the same honorable status quo. During Frisbee games players can be seen to push, take a few extra steps into the end zone, foul, or hold off on calling a foul until after they see if their next pass was completed or not. It’s sad, and very unnerving for those of us who like to think of our actions on the field as being a component of who we are: either honorable or dishonorable men.

As Americans, honor is important to us. Integrity is an ideal to live by. And sportsmanship is what it’s all about when playing sports. It’s about holding oneself to a higher standard, putting in the effort to help the man next to you, and winning or losing gracefully and in a manner that you can hold your head up high regardless of the result. The same should be true of the U.S. soccer team, regardless of at the World Cup with TV cameras and reporters present or at a YMCA soccer field on a Saturday afternoon with mothers and fathers in attendance.

As the Thursday game came to a close between U.S. and Germany, one of the U.S. players was hurt. He fell, but an injury timeout was not called by the referee. The German soccer team did the honorable thing: they kicked the ball out of bounds to enable help to come to the injured player. And once the U.S. team was ready to play, they didn’t take the opportunity to attack Germany’s goal — even though they were down by a goal and running the risk of not advancing — they inbounded the ball to Germany’s goalie, giving them possession and allowing us to keep our honor, as they had theirs by refusing to continue playing when one of our players was down. That’s the way that soccer — and life, for that matter — should be played, not some type of performance aimed at gaining an illicit upper hand against a component.

Support honesty and integrity in U.S. Soccer, goals on the scoreboard or not.

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About Christopher Zoukis

Christopher Zoukis, a young writer currently incarcerated at FCC Petersburg (Medium), is an impassioned and active prison education advocate, a legal commentator, and a prolific writer of books, book reviews, and prison law articles. While living in federal prison at various security levels, retaliations for his activism have earned him long stretches in solitary, or "the hole." While in prison, he has earned numerous academic, legal, and ministerial credentials. Christopher is very knowledgeable about prison-related legal issues, prison policy, federal regulations, and case law. He is the author of College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014) and thePrison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016). A regularly featured contributing writer for The Huffington Post and Prison Legal News, the nation's most prominent prison law publication, Christopher has enjoyed significant media exposure through appearances with the Wall Street Journal's Market Watch, Vice.com, Salon.com, In These Times, The Jeff McArthur Show, The Simi Sara Show,TheCommentary.ca, 88.9 WERS' award-winning "You Are Here" radio segment, and The Examiner. Other articles and book reviews appeared in The New York Journal of Books, the Kansas City Star, The Sacramento Bee, Blog Critics, Midwest Book Review, Basil and Spice, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, AND Magazine, Truth-Out.org, Rain Taxi, and the Education Behind Bars Newsletter, with content syndicated by the Associated Press, Google News, and Yahoo News. He established three websites: PrisonEducation.com, PrisonLawBlog.com, and ChristopherZoukis.com, and was a former editor of the Education Behind Bars Newsletter. In 2011, his fiction won two PEN American Center Prison Writing Awards for a screenplay and a short story. He taught a popular course on writing and publishing to over 100 fellow prisoners. Today Christopher is successfully working on a Bachelor's Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies (Business/Law) from Adams State University. Following his 2016 graduation, he plans on attending Adams State University's MBA program. He regularly advises fellow prisoners and prison consultants about legal issues and federal regulations governing the Federal Bureau of Prisons operations. Upon release he plans to attend law school and become a federal criminal defense attorney. Christopher will not allow incarceration to waste his years or halt the progress of his life. He began his prison terms as a confused kid who made poor decisions but is today determined to create a better life. "We can't let the past define us," he says. "We have to do something today to make tomorrow what we want it to be."
  • bliffle

    Of course athletes and players should be honorable, but the pressures of high-finance sports push the players to become dishonorable. The only way to ensure honest sports and games is to greatly reduce the importance of money in games. That will require better officiating and off-field over-site, both dynamically as play occurs, and off-field by review of the officials performance.

    To focus on the venality of players is just scapegoating, the real problems are with the officials and the corporate sport structures.

    Here are my personal non-negotiable demands for restoring true sports:

    Eliminate all sports monopolies. Never again allocate a monopoly to a league or company. Nobody needs a sports “Czar” to set standards and policies and schedules anymore than we need a political “Czar” to dictate policies. The policing

    Universal Healthcare Single payer so that NO athlete anywhere is crippled by sports and dumped in the gutter.

    I have more demands but I have to go for a hike. More later.