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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Eden Hazard and the Ball Boy

If you watch Sports Center, you've probably seen the clip that shows Eden Hazard, the young Belgian soccer star who plays winger for Chelsea, kick a ball boy in Chelsea's match at Swansea (in Wales) yesterday.  You also saw the referee give Hazard a red card, ejecting him from the game.  And, you saw the boy roll over and scream out in pain, too.  Bad facts, bad visual, interesting result.

Watching it quickly while on the trusty spin bike, I first convicted Hazard, because on the face of it he seemingly kicked the ball boy for no reason.  That, of course, would have no explanation and no excuse.  But watching it again (and here's a link to pictures and video), you see that the ball boy covered up the ball the way an American football player would dive on a loose football.  Put simply, the ball boy should have given the ball to Hazard promptly.  Instead, he delayed the game.  My guess is that Hazard must have said something like "give me the ball," and when the ball boy didn't yield immediately, he kicked him once (and that kick looked more like a prod than a stomp) before kicking him again and getting the ball.  Clearly, Hazard hurt the boy (even if diving and other sorts of histrionics are prominent in soccer).  The question that's circulating is who is in the wrong and how much?

My take on it is that the ball boy clearly was wrong not to yield the ball immediately to Hazard.  The Swansea people should at least talk with him, if not suspend him or depending on his record, terminate his work as a ball boy.  The kid clearly made a mistake.  But did that justify what Hazard did?  No, it did not, even though the ball boy was in the wrong.  And, since it appears that the referee was watching, there should be a rule that enables a referee to issue a card (red or yellow) to the home team's captain for delay of game (sure, it is perhaps unfair to the captain, but it sends a message to the home team that their employees involved in the game need to behave properly).  And that would have been the end of it.  Hazard should have appealed to the official (even if there is no clear rule) and perhaps the officials could have dealt with the transgression by adding time to the clock that is normally added for "stoppage time."  I don't know what the rule book says, but it clearly should be reviewed in light of what the Swansea ball boy did.

As for Hazard, well, we shouldn't have players dispensing their own type of justice, especially to teenaged ball boys.  He'll draw a fine and a suspension, but he's actually only a few years older than the ball boy he kicked.  We can understand what Hazard did -- he's an elite athlete at a very young age (he is one of the world's best) -- and he's gotten to where he is by an ardent pursuit to be among the world's best.  Which means, when he has to, he'll break down barriers to get there.  The ball boy got in his way, and then he took matters into his own hands.

Let's not make this into anything more than it is -- two young men who made mistakes.  The ball boy didn't do his job, and Hazard compounded the situation.  The video makes it look ugly, and Chelsea's decline this year makes them and their players easy targets.  But this really isn't more than unfortunate behavior, and it should be treated with some level of measurement and a significant amount of forgiveness. 

This shouldn't ruin either the ball boy's or Hazard's career.

It should ruin some of Hazard's nights, though, thinking about what he did.


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