In Praise of Streakers, Storming the Court, and Tearing Down the Goalpost
Mario “Il Falco” Ferri wasn’t as daring as Fan Man or as visually arresting as Morganna. But for putting the spectacle in spectator sport, he deserves the praise of the planet.
In his latest stunt, Ferri raced onto the field uninvited yesterday during the first half of a scoreless U.S.-Belgium World Cup game. Goofballs such as Mr. Ferri grasp that they gate crash a game and not a G20 summit.
The Italian had no rooting interest in the match. He came for the fun. The killjoys averted the camera’s gaze but thankfully allowed Ferri to enjoy his moment in the sun. In the United States, imitators might have been beaten senselessly for such an unauthorized walk on the grass. But in Brazil, as the gentleman’s shirt suggested, they apparently deal with enough violent criminals not to violently treat pranksters as criminals.
Unfortunately, the space invader rationalized his clothed streaking with social messages as though motives higher than amusement inspired his bravery. Ferri’s Superman shirt announced “I Save Favelas Children,” a reference to the urchins spilling out of Brazil’s brutal slums, and contained the name “Ciro Esposito,” a reference to a fan of a Naples team murdered by a fan of a Rome team earlier this year. Whatever happened to running onto the field for the sake of running onto the field?
I like him less for wearing clothes on his jaunt and even less than that for wearing slogans on his clothes. But at least he rightly views keep-off-the-grass signs as invitations.
Cameras caught U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann shaking his head at the spectacle, which pundits widely interpreted as a display of disapproval for the eye-popping interruption of back-and-forth boredom. Might it instead have been facial evidence of an epiphany that he has dedicated his life to a soporific disguised as a sport? Klinsmann’s dejected body language shouted, “I should have been a streaker, not a soccer star.” Perhaps the German’s disgust stemmed from the thought that they don’t make streakers like they used to: naked.
Ferri’s true message didn’t set in for the players until overtime, at which point they began to put the ball in the net and lift fans out of their seats. If you’re going to cram 50,000 people into a stadium, Ferri seemed to be saying, you better give them reasons for being there beyond “Seven Nation Army” chants, vuvuzelas, and hot girls dressed as Wonder Woman. It’s a kids’ game, and kids tire more easily on a couch than on a field. Welcome the excitement in whatever form it takes.
Ferri brought the fun in the first half. And then, in a case of delayed reaction, his enthusiasm became contagious in overtime. Surely when the teams huddled up before extra time the opposing coaches gave a united message appealing to the exuberance of Mr. Ferri as a point of motivation. Belgium and the U.S. played soccer as a sprint instead of slow and steady. The frantic competition advertised the sport better than Ferri advertised the rallying cries inscribed upon his shirt. We can thank Mr. Ferri for this furious finish. The players put a product on the pitch that kept fans off it.
We watch sport because it showcases the best. We also watch for catharsis. Cheering cheers us up. In the nineteenth century, Americans went to the theater for much the same reasons that we go to the stadium today. Theater-goers took sides among rival actors, cheered, heckled, rioted, and attacked unfortunate figures merely playing vile characters. Drama was a contact sport. Lawrence Levine’s Highbrow/Lowbrow documents the surreal scene. “Cabbages, carrots, pumpkins, potatoes, a wreath of vegetables, a sack of flour and one of soot, and a dead goose, with other articles, simultaneously fell upon the stage,” a Sacramento paper informed readers after an 1856 performance that sent spectators into a frenzy upon the killing of Henry during Richard III.
Once theater became refuge for the so-serious, sit-down, “shush!” snob crowd, it ceased functioning as popular entertainment. Sport hasn’t quite arrived there. But one can’t help but notice that the yellow slingshots overlooking the endzones remain upright, crowds no longer storm the court upon an NBA championship, and descriptions of Disco Demolition Night and Ten-Cent Beer Night provoke reflexive disbelief among young people.
Criminals, as they have always done, still sadly use victories or losses as excuses to rampage. But law-abiding folks increasingly don’t find as therapeutic an outlet in celebrating spectator sports because spontaneous celebrations strike our regimented society as borderline criminal. Any college basketball victory that spills students out of the dorms and into the quad now wins the designation “riot.” The World Cup, to its credit, channels rather than bottles up the unrehearsed excitement.
In a world of robot paparazzi hiding atop traffic lights and airport crotch pat-downs and a closed-to-traffic Pennsylvania Avenue, any glimpse of the rebellious spirit of our forefathers reaffirms the do-your-own-thing ideals upon which America was founded upon. It’s too bad that spirit, living in an Italian sitting in a Brazilian jail, has been priced out of the stands and barricaded off the field in America.
Photo credit: Getty Images