Last night Borussia Dortmund came out against AS Monaco in a performance that was somewhat typical of their disjointed season. A flat, almost disinterested first half marked by careless mistakes followed by a second half masterpiece that only just barely failed to get a result. Pretty amazing considering every player on that pitch in black and yellow was still in shock having survived a terrorist bombing on their team bus just one day before.
We of course watched these events unfold with a perverse pleasure in trying to play voyeur into the emotional souls of the players we love, swelling with pride as we watched them come out on to the pitch, shrink within ourselves as we realized what they thought of their presence there and how it was MANIFESTLY evident on the field of play, and welled up with tears as we watched our hard-man and Homeric demigod Sokratis break down and cry in front of the Yellow Wall. Those of us who were intellectually honest with ourselves on witnessing this modern tragedy could only marvel “Madness! Madness!” alongside Dr. Clipton from Bridge on the River Kwai as we witnessed the human toll of the decisions made in service of idealism. And some of us who were gung-ho about giving the finger to the forces of hatred and intolerance felt ashamed as we saw our reluctant gladiators on the field before us, slaves to our sporting pleasure.
As impossible as it is, we humans empathize with others by trying to put ourselves in their situations. I am no different. Over ten years ago, my team of U.S. Army soldiers and I were attacked in a convoy by an improvised explosive device on the road in some place you likely never heard of in Iraq. To this day I can still see spider-web like cracks growing in slow-motion in front of an expanding fireball through my armored windshield two feet in front of my face. I was with four other people that night in my truck and thankfully no-one was hurt. I was able to put it all aside, reorganize and continue on with my mission. My young gunner manning the turret was not. He was a mess mentally and could not carry on.
I am reminded of that night long ago as I think of the attack on the team bus. And as much as I would like to draw parallels between my experiences in Iraq, they would fall infinitely short. I was a soldier in a foreign country and had been mentally prepared for my physical safety being threatened by violence. The players on the team bus are not soldiers, and the potentiality of them being targeted by roadside bombs surely was not in any of their minds while getting on that bus. They are professionals yes, but their profession is not to run into burning buildings, confront armed criminals, or assault a fortified enemy position. They are footballers unprepared to quickly put aside these events by the nature of their profession. Nuri Şahin made that quite evident in his emotional interview following the match.
That said, as easy as it would be to start laying the blame on UEFA and the club for the calloused calls made, we do need to take time to simply allow ourselves and the decision-makers involved to process everything. Something that unfortunately was not granted to the players. I do not think for a minute any of these decisions were made maliciously, subjugating the mental state of the victims to the needs of the almighty Euro. I can certainly sympathize with both Borussia Dortmund the enterprise and EUFA in the impossible situation they found themselves in, having to make a decision that had a massive amount of third and fourth order effects; a decision that had to be made without the benefit of a lot of information.
And I can certainly sympathize with the players and staff who obviously were not consulted on their true emotional state. The truth is, there are no right answers. This was and is an awful event with no positive solutions. That really is the only constant of these kind of situations. The human brain has a difficult time processing something horrible and accepting it. I can just hope that the players and staff are able to do so in a healthy way and perhaps, someday they can look back in pride in what they were able to accomplish in awful circumstances. In the meantime, I hope UEFA and BVB can have a Colonel Nicholson moment of self-revelation and ponder, “What have I done?”