Yo Mama! The Head Butt Explained

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Nearly 72 hours after French soccer star Zinedine Zidane closed his illustrious career with an ignoble ejection for head-butting an Italian defender, Zidane told a still-agonizing French public what had provoked the most notorious head-butt in the history of the game. Exactly what button had Marco Materazzi pushed to cause Zidane to forsake his teammates, and the still obtainable victory in Sunday's World Cup final, and instead to opt for the hollow satisfaction of corporal payback? What hateful words could have detonated the violence that provoked Zidane's ejection, and helped deny him and France the dream of a second world title in eight years? Millions of fans tuned in to an exclusive interview on France's Canal Plus to learn the answers.

"It would be very hard for me to repeat them," said Zidane, after the interviewer had pressed him for the details the player had sought to avoid. "They were very hard words that touched the very depths of me; words concerning my mother, my sister. I'd rather take a right to the face than hear those."

Because of that — and with a defiance that will doubtless leave many observers unsatisfied with his explanation — Zidane said he could not be fully contrite for his pique of fury, even if he regretted the example it may have set for others. "My action was unpardonable, and I want to say loudly and clearly to all the many people, to the millions of children who saw it, I apologize," said Zidane in his habitual soft-spoken tones, a military-style coat caped over his shoulders. "I want to apologize to coaches and people who work with kids, and try to teach them what is acceptable, and what isn't.

"But I cannot say I regret my act, because that would mean [Materazzi] had the right to say what he did," Zidane nonetheless insisted. "No one has the right to say such things."

Though opinion polls show most of France ready to forgive Zidane the transgression in deference to his more heroic profile both on and off the pitch, some pundits are bound to insist Zidane's final on-field act will forever compromise what would have been a legendary status. Earlier media analyses of what had preceded the bust-up depicted Materazzi's comments as Islamophobic or racist in nature — with one suggesting the Italian had called Zidane a "(expletive) Arab, Muslim terrorist".

The revelation that Materazzi had, instead, got Zidane's goat with the kind of insults commonly used in sandlots, playgrounds and professional arenas around the world to bait rivals will doubtless strike many observers as undeserving of the Frenchman's dramatic, self-defeating reaction — especially at such a crucial time for his team and soon-to-be-terminated career. Especially given Zidane's comments earlier in the interview acknowledging neither he nor his teammates had experienced any problems with the Italians or Materazzi prior to the exchange that ended with Zizou's expulsion.

"He grabbed my jersey and I told him to stop," Zidane, 34, explained. "I told him if he wanted my jersey, I'd give it to him after the match." There would be no after for Zidane, however, once the insults he says Materazzi directed toward his mother and sister worked their dark magic. "He said it once, and I walked away. But you hear it a second time, a third time... I'm a man, and I reacted to them. Those words were harder than acts."

If Zidane's fans in the French public and media agree, he'll probably pay precious little price for his act among his many corporate sponsors — including Canal Plus, with whom he's long had an exclusive relationship for announcements regarding his career. But with world soccer authority FIFA having opened an investigation into the head-butting incident, and warning Zidane could lose the Golden Ball award sports writers accorded him as the most valuable player in the World Cup, the full impact of his now infamous header may not be fully known for some time still. Zidane's career may well be over, but his exact legacy is still a work in progress.