My first year of teaching was the worst year of my life. I was sick in the morning as I drove up to work, and exhausted in the evening as I arrived home. Weekends were a precious, precious time, and, yet, I chose to spend one entire Saturday afternoon on YouTube watching sports fights. The one that started it all off that Saturday afternoon was the Malice at the Palace. And I don’t regret spending my day that way. If anything, it was one of the most satisfying events of my week. During all those clips, you’ll hear commentators saying something like this: “Uh-oh, this is something no one wants to see.” Wrong. That is precisely the thing we want to see. Some of us might proudly acknowledge it; others will maintain that violence over something as trivial as a game is deplorable. But we all have that darkness lurking in us.
And so that brings us nicely to Diego Costa. When Diego Costa barged, scratched, shoved, smacked, bumped, berated, goaded, and generally annoyed the hell out of the Arsenal back line in the September of 2015, Gabriel Paulista, the Arsenal center back, aimed a surreptitious kick at the Chelsea striker. Only it wasn’t so surreptitious and the referee waived the red card and Gabriel (eventually) left the pitch. And the soccer world erupted in frothy outrage. Costa is the Snidely Whiplash of sport; if you want to lose a whole afternoon, type his name into YouTube and marvel at the sheer inventiveness of his devilry. He is loathed the world over, but no one can look away. Indeed, after the game his manager, Jose Mourinho, said that Costa’s qualities were why the stadiums were full and why companies like NBC would pay $1 billion for six more years of television rights.
And he’s right. Do you think Arsenal fans are going to stop watching future games because of the injustice of it all? Do you think Chelsea fans are going to stop chanting Diego’s name because he is a meanie? If anything, I bet more Arsenal fans will tune in to Chelsea games to watch Costa go through his repertoire of dirty tricks (assuming he is not suspended that week). Neutrals will tune in just to click their tongues as Diego Costa goes down under a heavy challenge, looks to the referee, and waives an imaginary yellow card. Journalists will rub their hands with glee as Costa provides them with another easy 1,000 words and thousands of clicks on their articles. For a culture that claims to be so outraged by Diego Costa, we sure have a lot of time for him.
To explain why, I think we have go to Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam War film, Full Metal Jacket. I’m pretty sure you remember a quote or two from it. Everyone does, and it’s usually something from the Parris Island drill instructor Gunnery Sergeant Hartman played by R. Lee Ermey. My favorite exchange though is when Private Joker, played by Matthew Modin, is confronted by a colonel because he has a peace button pinned to his vest but also has “BORN TO KILL” scrawled across his helmet:
- Colonel: Marine, what is that button on your body armor?
- Joker: A peace symbol, sir!
- Colonel: Where’d you get it?
- Joker: I don’t remember, sir!
- Colonel: What is that you’ve got written on your helmet?
- Joker: “Born to kill”, sir!
- Colonel: You write “born to kill” on your helmet, and you wear a peace button. What’s that supposed to be, some kind of sick joke?
- Joker: No, sir!
- Colonel: What is it supposed to mean?
- Joker: I don’t know, sir!
- Colonel: You don’t know very much, do you?
- Joker: No, sir!
- Colonel: You better get your head and your ass wired together, or I will take a giant s*** on you!
- Joker: Yes, sir!
- Colonel: Now answer my question or you’ll be standing tall before the man!
- Joker: I think I was trying to suggest something about the duality of man, sir!
- Colonel: The what?
- Joker: The duality of man. The Jungian thing, sir!
The Jungian thing is Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung’s theory that we have two sides to our character, our ego and shadow; the ego being the our conscious, rational self and our shadow is the unconscious, instinctual self. Diego Costa on the pitch is pure shadow. Off of it, he’s one of the most popular figures at the club because of his affable nature (or, at least, his affable ego). Luis Suarez, another sporting archvillain, has a similar reputation of letting his shadow run the show while playing, yet Steven Gerrard names him as his best ever teammate, noting that he is a good guy and incredibly supportive. Thankfully, as Sid Lowe of The Guardian writes, Costa doesn’t take his work home with him, as he would “walk through the door, goad the dog with a stick, surreptitiously elbow his wife out of the way on the stairs, shrug his shoulders innocently as she lay in a crumpled heap at the bottom and whisper insults to his children, look the other way and whistle when they burst into tears.” Similarly, Suarez would find civilian life difficult with his dark side.
As supporters and fans, we aren’t too concerned with duality of Costa’s nature. We don’t want to see the laughing, joking Costa; we want to see the feral, competitive Costa. We want to watch and be outraged. I believe we should tread with caution with this last point, as there is another Jungian thing, or Freudian thing, to be more precise, at work: projection. Projection is the act of avoiding confrontation with your own dark side by unconsciously throwing it on someone else. The next time you watch Diego Costa sneakily barge his opponent in the back, are you outraged because of the injustice? Or could there be the tiniest possibility that you have that same nastiness embedded deep within your own character that you hope to expunge by railing against Costa? Perhaps Costa’s unsporting behavior makes us uncomfortable with our own team’s moral failings in the past, and we lash out.
Then again, maybe all of that is psychological mumbo-jumbo. Although, it did remind me of a conversation I had with an Orthodox priest some years ago. I animatedly told him about a peer with whom I had quite a bit of difficulty. He chuckled and told me I was blessed to have a benefactor like this guy in my life. He referred to him as a benefactor because this difficult man was doing me the kindness of exposing the anger and lack of forgiveness I carried in my heart. If only Gabriel Paulista could have had access to such wise spiritual counsel at Stamford Bridge back in 2015… How fortunate we are to have Diego Costa in our lives!