F This Job
An integral part of the whole nature of team sports is that the team is part of the community. It invokes local characteristics. It takes a name that ties it to the area in some way. Sometimes the team colors will have local meaning. The fans in the stadium, of course, will overwhelmingly be from the area. But what typically isn’t local are the players themselves. It’s considered a bonus if a player is, in fact, from the area- most college coaches like to recruit locally when they can; fanbases embrace a hometown player just that little bit more tightly- but it’s accepted, and largely taken for granted, that players who suit up to represent one place are highly likely to be from another place entirely, to the point where the geographical spread of where teams in a given league are located has absolutely nothing to do with the average locations of the hometowns of the players on those teams. Players MAY have grown up rooting for a particular team- and again, if they did, it’s a bonus (Derek Jeter and the Yankees being one example), but odds are the team they’re actually playing for is not that team.
That having been said, it’s also generally accepted that if you become a member of a team, you’re probably going to end up becoming a fan of that team real fast, particularly if you accrue a fair amount of service time there.
Most players will likely end up with a team that they neither rooted for nor rooted against, and will end up playing for a team they were neutral towards, meaning their relationship with the team is likely to be shaped by events. Most will embrace, or at least come to accept, their adopted home. But some won’t. When this happens, a player is expected to at least keep things civil. When they move to a new team, typically they’ll at least try and be deferential towards the city and fans they just left. So when someone like the NBA’s Enes Kanter comes along, disparaging his former Utah Jazz and Salt Lake City after moving to the Oklahoma City Thunder, it’s fairly shocking.
It’s even more shocking when the fans are disparaged by someone actually still in the uniform. Which brings us to Brazil, and the Campeonato Gaucho, one of the many state-level competitions that go on alongside the national leagues. The Campeonato Gaucho covers the state of Rio Grande do Sul, housing Porto Alegre as its capital and largest city. Historically, it’s little more than a two-horse race between Internacional and Gremio, who combine for 79 titles in the 93 previous editions, and who have won all but two of the titles from 1955 on. This year looks to be no exception. The game that concerns us came on April Fool’s Day, pitting Internacional against this year’s apparent primary pretender to the throne, Ypiranga.
Now, it’s not unusual for a fanbase to get on their own players for whatever reason, typically poor play in general or a particularly poor specific play. But the expectation is that the player will, at least in the short term, suck it up and get through the game without reacting to it. The figuring is, they’re getting paid the money to play a game, and if they won’t, there’s some other person out there that would be happy to do it instead. If they become uncomfortable with their continued presence on the team, the expectation is that they’ll handle it off the field, requesting or demanding to be sent somewhere else. It’s not ideal- the fans don’t like being told they’re not liked either- but it’s certainly preferable to what defenseman Fabricio opted to do.
Defenseman Fabricio was a local journeyman, bouncing around various clubs in his home state of neighboring Sao Paulo before finding his way to Internacional on a loan deal in 2011, where he’s been ever since. His recent fortunes haven’t been great; in the Recopa Gaucha on February 1st- matching the winners of the state league and state cup (because yes, those are both things), Internacional lost a shootout to Lajeadense, with Fabricio’s missed penalty being the one that ended the game. The fans have been riding him lately, and were on him constantly over the course of the Ypiranga game.
When thousands of people are booing and jeering you to your face, it really doesn’t matter who you are, that’s a hard thing to take. Part of the job of an athlete is to learn how to tune it out, but it’s still a damn hard thing, and when it’s your own side doing it, it’s that much harder. Fabricio, eventually, snapped. He walked towards the home crowd and gave the fans the double middle finger. (Usually, gestures mean different things in different countries, but the bird is the bird pretty much everywhere.)
He got an immediate red card. And the crowd cheered wildly.
Fabricio then ripped his jersey off while his teammates attempted in vain to calm him down. He left the field vowing never to play for Internacional again. The club has since suspended him, which seems academic given the circumstances. His teammates didn’t give interviews afterward.
Internacional won 1-0.
It doesn’t have to get to that point, though. It can manifest at day one. A player getting the choice of where they play is the result of skill and longevity, and sometimes not even then. Sometimes, you just play with whoever’s willing to have you, and if they decide one day to pass you off to someone else, you don’t always get a say in the matter. Your job’s just relocated and you have to relocate along with it if you wish to continue your career. Players can easily find themselves moved to an inferior situation than what they had, or at least, they can feel like it. There is, if you’re any kind of a name at all, likely to be some sort of an unveiling ceremony or at least initial picture of you in your new laundry. The expectation is that you’re going to go ‘I’m pleased as punch to be the newest signing for Whoever The Hell FC, everything here is the greatest, put me in coach! Put me in!’ Or, at least, you should look like that, putting on a brave face if nothing else.
But brave faces don’t always happen. Who Ate All The Pies, at the close of England’s transfer window in February, compiled a gallery of just-transferred players looking glum while holding up the jersey of their new club. They focused on England. It’s hard to imagine it not happening elsewhere.
This is a very difficult thing for fans to accept. After all, isn’t being a professional athlete a dream job? You’re getting paid so much money! To play a game! That children play! The thing about a dream job, though, is that it’s just that: a job. The old saying may go ‘find a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life’, but people don’t always get into sports because they love doing it. Some are simply going where the money is. Some are using sports as a high-stakes method of trying to lift their family out of poverty. For them, it’s not a dream job. It’s just… a job. It’s a workplace, albeit one a fair bit different from most people’s workplaces. There are plenty of people in the stands for any given game in any given sport who don’t particularly like the job they’ll go back to after the game.
Serena Williams is a particularly notable example. In January 2012, she defeated Chanelle Scheepers in the first round of the Brisbane International, her first match since the previous September, in the final of the US Open, and had announced an intention to lighten her schedule more. After the match, she told reporters, “It’s not that I’ve fallen out of love with tennis. I’ve actually never liked sports and I never understood how I became an athlete. I don’t like working out, I don’t like anything physical. If it involves sitting down or shopping, I’m excellent at it.”
She’s won six majors since those remarks and is currently ranked #1 in the world. Her schedule is as full as ever. Why in the world would that be? Because it’s still a job. A job that she shows up for. As she also said that day, “I don’t love tennis today but I’m here. I can’t live without it – there’s a difference between not loving something and not being able to live without it.” It’s why she gets up in the morning. You may not like your job, but if you suddenly didn’t have it, you’d probably freak out. Which is exactly what a lot of athletes do when the end of their career comes up on them.
I have no idea what’s in store for Fabricio. He’s 28. He’ll probably find another club somewhere, though there’s a good chance the back end of his career is starting to come up on him. However long he has in this job, he’s definitely not enjoying it right now.