Two seemingly unrelated reports have been circulating today: the first is another escalation in the FC Barcelona-Real Madrid rivalry, courtesy of Josep María Bartomeu, Barcelona's vice president, who continues to call on Real Madrid to discipline their embattled coach, José Mourinho. "They have a serious problem with him, and we all know it," he told a press conference. "I'm not going to back off."
The second, and seemingly unrelated report, came from Boston, Massachusetts, where Red Sox (that's baseball, folks) slugger David Ortiz reacted to a recent brawl between his team and their nemesis, the New York Yankees. "When [my son is] asking questions about fights, it's embarrassing to be honest with you," he told the New York Daily News. "Now when he asks about things that happened in the game, I am proud of explaining to him because I know he is trying to learn about the game. When I have to break down a fight to him, it's basically like telling him 'I don't want you to be a baseball player because you'll have to fight, too.'"
Put side by side like this, these two anecdotes seem unrelated at best. But they're not. They're actually important manifestations of two contrasting attitudes towards to similar situations. And they represent a major flaw in the way Real Madrid and Barcelona have conducted themselves in the last couple of years.
Full disclosure: I'm a Yankee fan. I live in New York, and have happily booed Big Papi Ortiz numerous times in the Bronx. But I also respect and admire him as a player and as a person (forget the steroids, that's another issue that I don't care about anyways). The way both teams handled this most recent brawl--that didn't even come to blows, mind you--has been really eye-opening, especially in the wake of the ridiculous Real Madrid-Barcelona brawl at the end of the Supercopa.
Just like in the Supercopa, this Yankees-Red Sox feud started when a knuckle-headed player retaliated violently after a similarly knuckle-headed player showed him up. In Madrid's case, Marcelo retaliated violently to Lionel Messi's provocations; in Boston's case John Lackey threw a fastball at Francisco Cervelli's back after Cervelli celebrated a home run particularly boisterously. All the acts were stupid and unsportsmanlike, but none of them are incomprehensible given the circumstances.
In both cases, the benches cleared; in Spain, Madrid and Barcelona players came to blows; in Boston, there were only yells. Still, both incidents were embarrassing, and not in the spirit of the game (some people might disagree and say that brawling is very much a baseball tradition, but that's not really the point I'm trying to make). Some players and administrative staff will be fined and suspended in both cases (at least I hope so in the Barça-Madrid case).
But that's where the similarities end. Yankee players and coaches expressed their anger that Lackey threw at their player, but then they moved on to the next match (which they lost); the tension mounted, but never grew out of control.
On the other hand, Real Madrid and Barcelona players, coaching staffs, and all the way on up, are still throwing wood on the fire. Iker Casillas' post-match press conference, where he accused Cesc Fábregas of simulating (he wasn't), was followed by a series of press conferences where essentially every member of Barcelona's staff accused Real Madrid (and really, their coach) of ruining soccer. What a joke.
Instead of letting the bad blood and the tension simmer down, Real Madrid and Barcelona officials continue to jab at the other side: while neither group have lodged formal complaints, both have continued to whine, with Madrid accusing Barcelona players of provoking the fight, and with Barcelona denying any culpability and accusing Madrid of destroying their saintly image and game.
Madrid and Barcelona are equally to blame for the embarrassing image they produced at the end of the match: Bartomeu's attack on Madrid is emblematic of the infuriating holier-than-thou tone that Barça has used to deny culpability for the last few weeks, while Madrid's shifting the blame onto Messi for provoking the violence is equally disgraceful.
The whole thing is disgusting. It's a bad example for the kids, the people who are most likely to be influenced by the behavior (and it's not just them: when I was a young kid in Madrid, an older 30-something man cussed me out for wearing a Real Madrid kit). Big Papi was right: it's an embarrassment. I don't like explaining to my non-Liga-watching friends why these two teams are sniping at each other. I'm embarrassed by the way Barcelona and Madrid have dealt with this situation.
The greatest rivalry in baseball could teach the greatest rivalry in soccer a thing or two, just like the MLB could teach the LFP a few things about how to deal with fighting.