We don’t think. We hardly ever do. And maybe if we did, we would become a global society of agoraphobics.
Football is called the beautiful game, because it is. Amid the ugliness, anger, violence on and off the pitch, fakery and assorted detritus that tries to sully it, we love it because when a player has the ball at their feet, when the world stops in rapt anticipation, there is purity. The beauty is all that there is.
That beauty is present whether you support a colossus such as Barça, an MLS club or the tiniest local team, where you attend the match because if you don’t, the other few spectators would wonder where you are. Football unites us, even when we act like we hate each other.
Today, 76 people died when an airplane carrying the team and associated personnel of Brazil’s Chapecoense football club, crashed in Colombia. There are six survivors as of this moment.
That team was flying to compete in the Copa Sudamericana finals, against a much bigger club. Chapecoense was a team that spent the season punching above its weight. WAY above its weight. People who know Brazilian football compare it to the story of Leicester City, when the world and all of its forces contrive to create an improbable, lovely thing — the magical underdog. The team isn’t supposed to keep doing what it is doing, and yet, it does. It kept fighting, kept punching, kept working as a group until it achieved the pinnacle of everything that it had been working toward.
Empathy is supposed to allow us to understand, to experience the feelings of others, to essay at least a few steps in their shoes. Before today, among a fanbase that scoffs at the Copa del Rey because well, it isn’t a big enough trophy, it’s easy to forget how special it is just to make a final. Chapecoense didn’t, because something like this had never happened to them before. Would it again? No idea, because they were too busy experiencing this. As culers, we wouldn’t have been able to walk a few steps in their shoes because we would have been looking down our noses at some little trophy. Empathy is something we forget, a muscle that atrophies from disuse.
Today if we essayed a few steps in their shoes, we would collapse from grief.
“What if it was you?” is one of those questions that doesn’t really matter any more. We shudder, say “There but for the grace of God,” but in our hearts, we’re already moving on. But stop for an instant. What if instead of names such as Danilo, Dalmoro and Rangel being mourned, they were Pique, Neymar, Messi. Empathy is the one thing that should unite us. On a day such as today, empathy is that thing that makes it barely possible to keep from crying, or to stop crying.
We can curse Fate, can wonder why it would take a group of people who were about to experience the most wonderful thing in most of their lives, and rip it all away. We can speculate about reminders, and intended messages for the world about the fragility of life and how fleeting it all is. We can prattle on about how death is part of life, how we shouldn’t mourn the dead but instead we should celebrate their lives, to remember how wonderful they were, and what they did. But how does anyone really deal with this? We can start with love, and empathy.
The hearts of everyone who is a part of this lustrous game that we all love and are attached to in any way, are heavy. So heavy. Teams such as Barça and Real Madrid took a moment in training to pay tribute. Minutes of silence will be held all over the world at matches this weekend. How many people will look at the players they are chomping at the bit to cheer and wonder, just for a moment, what if? What if that moment of silence was by some other club, for mine?
Some will respect the moment, grab their beer and forget about it all as soon as the whistle blows. A few others will wonder. So it will be today. Some will return to football, others will be shaken to the core by unspeakable tragedy that befell a group of people they have never met, seen or even bothered to watch before. Because it’s a part of the game, part of beauty, part of life. From everyone at Barcelona Football Blog, writers, commenters and readers, our hearts go out to the Chapecoense family.
Finally, here are the words of Plínio David de Nes Filho, a club official at Chapecoense:
“Lifelong friends were on that flight. It looks unlikely that many survived. It was not just a group founded on mutual respect — it was a family. We lived in great harmony, with great happiness. Before boarding the flight, they said they were going to turn their dreams into reality. The dream ended this morning.”