Gladwell's “Blink” theory. An applied case study: Zidane's decision.

I know I promised to not talk about the world cup anymore. However, this is more of an extrapolation on the ramification of a headbutt that looks more and more like a stand against bigotry and ignorance. Let’s get our facts right: after the interview on French TV, Zidane apologized for his action but reiterated that he did not regret it. He also did not deny the version published in the press stating that Materazzi called him a “son of a terrorist whore” but he refused to state the exact wordings used by Materazzi. Zidane has a history of “hotheadedness” that is well illustrated but always as a reaction to previous aggression. Zidane most critics said that he should have known better, that he tarnished his legacy and that physical violence is never justified.
Here is my contention based loosely on Gladwell’s book. The theory in a very simplified way can be summarized as “thinking without thinking”. In other words, it’s the ability to process the relevant factors in the decision making process and select for the important ones to discern to the right course of action in a very short amount of time. In this particular case, Zidane clearly stated that he knew exactly what he was doing and that it was not a case of sudden rage but it did happen very fast. So what were the relevant factors ?
Factors against the headbutt: ejection from the final of the World Cup, tarnished legacy, representative of a team and a nation, outcome of the game still in doubt.
Factors for the headbutt: punish instantly verbal abuse against his mother, sister and race, take a stand against at once against shirt pulling, behind the back aggression, provocation and bigotry that have been corrupting the game of football for too long.
It is of course a stretch to argue that all of this information was carefully processed by Zidane in the 1.5 s it took him to clock Materazzi. However, he acknowledged that he was aware of the moment (overtime of world cup final, 2 billions people, sure ejection) and try to walk away from Materazzi (very clear on the replay) before choosing otherwise.
So he KNEW the consequences on the game and his team (he said: we would have gone in overtime anyway where it is always a toss-up), the surroundings (biggest stage ever) and the fallout for his legacy and DECIDED to go for it because it was more important to punish and take a stand for his family and against bigotry at that time.
In retrospect, how can we argue against the timing? What better time to take a stand against bigotry than in the most media covered moment ever, for an issue that is as tense as it could ever be. If his actions result in a harder stance in football against deliberate provocations and monkey noises, this is the best thing that could ever happen to him, France and football. This is a blessing in disguise for France because as other nations were laughing at the fact that the birthplace of the “Declaration of Human Rights” is currently deporting illegal child immigrants, France’s most famous representative fought back for his family ‘s rights to not be denigrated and humiliated on the basis of its race. He sacrificed his own legacy for an undeniable human value for him: respect of one’s family and culture. In the process, he also tripped other stereotypes that my favorite author Bill simmons (Sportsguy) touched upon: “I thought it was fascinating to watch him wipe out two stereostypes at once: That soccer players are wusses, and that French people are wusses. I'm also delighted that the Euro papers hired lip readers to see what the Italian said to him -- you know how I've been pushing for lip readers to replace sideline reporters for the past few years. But I didn't think the Zidane thing was as big of a deal as everyone made it out to be -- 8 minutes left in extra time, and it's not like they didn't have 10 guys left.” So there, Zidane also headbutted the idiotic stereotype in The US that French people only knows how to surrender when challenged by their neighbors.
Ironically, Gladwell and Simmons who often exchange ideas on basketball and American culture, might debate over this football thing for a while. For Zidane, his mind was made up in the BLINK of an eye and I cannot fault his final decision.


  1. did you happen to read the slate analysis of zz's headbutt technique. they are saying it was perfectly delivered and then they set out to describe how to give a headbutt. I love slate !

    it's here http://www.slate.com/id/2145424

  2. The game is awesome... head butt as many italians as you can...


  3. Pour revenir à ta dernière phrase, et parce qu'il se trouvait que j'étais devant la télé lors de son explication sur son geste: il disait que le regretter, même en de pareilles circonstances, reviendrait pour lui à admettre et accepter les insultes qui l'ont touché.Donc aucun regret, en assumant la suite.
    J'aurai sûrement la même réaction, au nom de mes valeurs propres, les soutenir même si cela doit coûter au-delà d'un certain seuil de tolérance...
    My last comment about the world cup and related! :D

  4. >sipakv, that was informative and hilarious, as we know, that was not the 1st time he tried :). the link at the bottom of the article is even better about the "magic spray" they use in football. It's funny how those guys often look like they just got electrocuted and juat a bit of "magic spray": garcimore, voila: I am ready to kick butt. :)
    >mos love the game, did you notice how his right knee is the 1st thing to give away ? I actually feel bad for Pirlo that he had to share his moment with such a clown.
    >Tattum, too much coupe du monde he :) no more I promise, unless Materazzi confesses and breaks down crying while being slapped by Zizou's mum :).... Valeurs, je suis content que ce mot reprenne un sens car la culture du "winning is everything" ici me sature un peu.

  5. I am sure Jennifer Aniston is now wondering if she had the wrong strategy. Perhaps she should have headbutted Angelina Jolie instead of her televised "Do not pity me" sessions.

  6. Yes ! a Brangelina sighting :), point taken sipakv :). Jennifer Anniston was classier in a taking the high road and now she is having a baby of her own, she probably feels better about the whole issue. Now had she hooked up with Angelina's brother.....ultimate headbutt :) ! THAT would be inspiring !

  7. GOOOOO Team JOLIIIIIE !!!!!

    Thanx for your com' Lova, it's not my first time here and it won't be the last ! I've got plenty of posts to discover and plenty of comments to make....lol you are going to hate me by the end of the summer! About Brangelina, for sure I'm THE fan and not only because my heart was broken when this Rachel girl married my soon-to-be husband (ok I was like 12 but was a big dreamer!)..., this two are down-to-earth, extravagant, beautiful, naughty and behaving humanly. I used the nearly those words when I described Lady Di but ...

  8. hey thanks for dropping a note. Anything angelina does is gold right now and I hope she can keep the course. Pitt is funding a project called "green" N-O for environment-friendly building after Katrina so 20/20 pour le couple pour l'instant ;).

  9. Zidane's failure to express himself (or twist his story) as well as you did demonstrates that he needs to hire you as his spokesperson/publicist because if this was his point, the world missed it.

  10. I might have to back up a little on my assesment of Zidane's decision. Since it was not clearly stated what was said after the fifa investigation, we will never know the exact nature of the insult. I wish they made it public so that, either we can fight racism more effectively or we close the chapter for good and regret Zidane's hot temper tainting his final game.