Saturday, June 12, 2010

U.S. Wins World Cup Game 1-1!

I'm not a passionate soccer fan, but I attended a party to watch a soccer game that I won't soon forget.  Like millions of other Americans, I watched the U.S. team beat the odds and tie the UK in the first round of the World Cup.  Unlike those millions of other Americans, however, I was fortunate enough to watch the game with the family of the undisputed hero of the previous time these two teams 1950.  In that game, the U.S. team beat the odds, as well.  But those odds were astronomical and the U.S. actually won.  It was and remains the biggest upset in World Cup history.  And the winning goal in that 1-0 game was scored by Joe Gaetjens, a Haitian immigrant who was working his way toward an accounting degree at Columbia University by washing dishes.  His achievement, which rocked the soccer world, was virtually ignored in the country on whose behalf he performed his heroic feat.....until recently.

The great tragedy of Joe Gaetjens was not that he was ignored by the country for which he played.  It was vastly greater than that.  Watch the video below to understand the full story.  In fact, Joe Gaetjens was idolized by the people of Haiti and was recognized for his achievement by the people of Haiti.  However, while he was very non-political, his brothers were active among those opposed to the ruthless, vicious and corrupt dictator, Papa Doc Duvalier.  As a result of the political activities of his family, he was killed.  Watch the video below for the full story:

OK, now wipe away the tears and let's move to a happier story.Today, the Gaetjens family gathered to watch the first game played by the U.S. and the U.K. in the World Cup since that game in 1950.  It was a festive occasion, hosted by my friend, Jean Gaetjens, who is Joe Gaetjens nephew.  Also attending was Leslie Gaetjens, Joe's son, who is featured in the video above.  Leslie is a teacher in the DC public schools and coaches multiple sports, ironically not including soccer.  He's a very mild-mannered, articulate man who, while bearing some scars from the loss of his father, is clearly gratified by the belated recognition his father is gaining 60 years later.  For me, it was deeply moving to be with the Gaetjens on this special day.

And while Joe died too young and in an egregiously unjust way, one can imagine him and the brother who joined him recently enjoying the show together.

To the right is a picture of me and Leslie wearing our commemorative t-shirts.

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