Something different happened at Sunday’s match between Borussia Dortmund and FSV Mainz 05. A match was played and completed, with Dortmund coming up 2-0 winners over the visitors, yes.
But there was something different. The crowded Signal Iduna Park, bursting at the seams with its usual 80,000 or so capacity crowd, and usually enormous with noise and with singing and cheering, was eerily quiet, and quieter as the match progressed. Word had gotten out — one of the Dortmund supporters in the crowd had died, of a heart attack, and the crowd, including the traveling Mainz supporters, was relatively hushed, out of respect for their fallen comrade.
Fortunately, someone infinitely wise at Fox/Sky Sports televising the match did not cut away for a commercial immediately after the normal post-game niceties. Instead, we viewers witnessed the players on the pitch. The Dortmund players and staff exchanged hugs and handshakes with their opponents and then, with little fanfare as they became aware of what had happened in the stands, walk slowly towards the fans at the end of the stadium for their usual post-game recognition of their supporters. The fans were singing loudly, the “You’ll Never Walk Alone” pop-song-turned-anthem that signifies solidarity among supporters and their club, club scarves held aloft. The Dortmund players stood facing the stands, arms draped over each other, quiet, as the supporters sang. Biting upper lips, Neven Subotic bowing his head, Roman Bürki on the brink of tears, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s 100 mile lost-in-thought stare, it was obvious that the players were reacting to the emotions of loss and solidarity,and feeling those themselves.
Clearly the players were moved, not only be the tragedy itself, but that bond between themselves and their supporters, their city, their region. Young, famous, wealthy, inordinately skilled and in the prime of their lives, these players born in Germany, Japan, Colombia, Greece, France, Armenia, Switzerland and in nations that no longer exist were part of something bigger than their fame, their skill, their money. They allowed the better angels of their natures* to embrace them, put aside their ‘specialness’ and everything else for the sake of humanity, respect, bonding. And they will all be better men for those memorable moments, shared.
*The phrase “better angels of our nature” was spoken by President Abraham Lincoln, at his first inaugural address in 1861, after several Southern states had just seceded from a Republic less than eighty years old. It was an appeal for the differing factions of the country to put aside those differences for the sake of preserving the Union and the noble experiment of republican government.
150 years later, the leading candidate of Lincoln’s Republican Party appeals daily to the opposite of our better angels. His daily spewing of bile, televised dutifully by every media entity because of its “theatrical drama,” is a constant denial of respect for the other in American life — the protester, the immigrant, the young, even the other Presidential candidates. A self-styled “strong man,” the candidate immerses himself in pro-authority declarations while his public life reflects nothing but the aggrandizement of his personal brand and a strength only purchased by extreme wealth.
Thus, the gift of witnessing the interaction between Dortmund players and supporters today was a well-needed tonic and a reminder that, amid the snarling of venomous political candidates, there truly remain better angels of our nature.