Opinion: Grammar

POSTED: 08/16/11 12:15 PM

Professional soccer players, at least many of them, are out of their league when it comes to the proper use of their language. Nothing new there: nobody expected the great Pele to be an expert on classic literature, a great writer or an excellent public speaker. Pele knew how to kick as on a soccer field, that was his field of expertise.
The same goes for soccer great Johan Cruyff, who spoke in his heydays a mysterious kind of Dutch nobody was able to follow. Later, when he went to Spain, he managed to bastardize the Spanish language as well. He even added an expression that did not exist in Spain before Cruyff’s arrival at Barcelona: en un momento dado (at a certain moment). The Spanish people never ridiculed Cruyff for his poor mastery of their language. On the contrary, they even picked up en un momento dado and used it in an advertising campaign. In 2004, it became the title of a movie about Cruyff’s life.
When journalists discovered during an edition of the Tour the France that professional road racing cyclist Peter Winnen actually read a book when he retired to his room after completing a stage, this scrap of information was treated as news. Even better, some journalist definitely thought Winnen was weird. (Later it turned out that Winnen used doping during his career – but that’s another story).
An opinion piece in the Volkskrant of yesterday shows that the obsession of writers with the grammatical struggles of professional athletes is still alive and kicking. It is about time that those athletes start wondering about the athletic abilities of journalists who write about this aspect of their being.
But Daniel Samkalden, the author of the opinion piece, has no inhibitions whatsoever. He criticizes pro soccer players for confusing them and they and the difference between if and than. If it were up to Samkalden, all those soccer players would have to go back to school and they would not be admitted to a soccer field again before they mastered their grammar.
Samkalden wrote that soccer players have outgrown the status of street urchins who talk with their feet. A modern soccer player (according to Samkalden) is a theatrical businessman who wallows in the economy of an aggressive, humongous industry and the idolatry of the whole population.
Wow, and based on this theatrical statement, Samkalden demands that soccer players get their grammar in order.
We had to think about a statement by a writer whose name escapes us at the moment. He was invited to a university to give a lecture about writing. When he showed up he was plain drunk. He climbed the lectern, looked at his audience and mumbled: “So who wants to write?”
The eager students, properly impressed by the presence of the great author, all raised their hands. The writer said: “Then why don’t you all go home and write?” before stepping down and leaving. It was probably the best lesson the aspiring writers ever got.
The same goes obviously for professional athletes. They don’t want to write, they don’t want to be poets, they want that NB-title, they want the heavyweight world title, the world record on the 100 meter dash, or they want to win Wimbledon.
Does anybody really care about the grammatical skills of, say, Ana Ivanovic, Rafael Nadal, Ronaldo Christiano or Novak Djokovic? Ah, sure, nit-pickers like Daniel Samkalden do. But who is this guy anyway? Has he even played soccer? If he did, he certainly managed to go unnoticed.
Writers ought to write the way soccer players ought to play soccer, the way professional athletes ought to do what they are good at without having to worry about them and they.

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