Now Everyone Can Hear the Idiot in the Back



I was close enough to smell the grass. The lights turned the evening into day. Thousands of fans were screaming in unison, drumming my ears into a brown hiss. The players made their way to the field, and I was looking for one person. Just one person. When he entered the stadium, even the opposing fans screamed his name: Gabriel Batistuta.

In 2002, the Embassy of Burundi in Cairo found itself with five spare tickets to the upcoming game of AS Roma vs Al-Ahly. My friends and I salivated over the opportunity and went to see the game. And yes, we saw Batistuta. One of my friends swore that after Batistuta kicked the ball, he could still steer it into whatever direction he wished.

At the stadium, a few seats behind me, there was an idiot. I understand football fans can take it a bit too seriously, but this one was not watching a game. He was watching a battle between enemies. If his team had lost, he might have done something regrettable.

Any time AS Roma got the ball, he would get visibly mad. He would get up and scream—not uncommon in a stadium. But this guy would also kick chairs. At one point, Ahly fumbled a corner kick, and this man grabbed a bottle and threw it into the field. Luckily, the bottle was open and spilled its content before it fell limp on the grass.

All eyes turned to the man. The guy on his left smacked him on the head. The guy on his right pulled him back down into his seat. They physically dominated him, and he knew they could overpower him in an instant. He remained in his seat. We turned back to the friendly game.

Now he started screaming obscenities. Mind you, he was loud, but of the reported 85,000 people at the stadium that day, maybe a dozen or so people paid him any mind. His screaming went from just an annoying fan rambling to a madman making disturbingly graphic threats. I turned around and saw the four or five people surrounding him, grabbing him, and drowning his voice. Not a minute later, Ahly scored the first goal.

After the celebrations, I turned back and the man had turned completely normal. In fact, it was hard to say that he looked crazy only a few minutes before. The game ended 2-1, with Al-Ahly victorious. I was disappointed. But the rumor at the time was that the Egyptian government wined and dined AS Roma and asked them to throw the game. That second goal that Batistuta missed was totally suspect. And of course, Totti had a "training injury" and couldn't play. But isn't that what everyone says when their team loses?

This was more than twenty years ago. As far as I can tell, the event with that idiot was never documented. I can't even remember the exact words this man was yelling. All I remember was being shocked. Who knows, he probably is a changed man today or isn't even into football anymore. So this is the only account of the event. Other than the dozen or so people around him, no one even saw it happen.

But if this were today, the man would have probably tweeted his comment. As insignificant as it was, writing the words down would have amplified his voice in a way that forced the equivalent of the entire stadium to pay attention. There's no equivalent of smacking a tweet on the head. Instead, we'd argue about free speech.

The web is fast and loud, but when you slow down, you can hear every single individual voice. The smartest voices are drowned out by comments from the gut. While this event faded from collective memory, a foolish tweet stays up forever. It can be a time sink, and sometimes it can even destroy the author who might have since changed.

In these new times, we need to develop skills suited to our circumstances. In an age of real-time public communication, the ability to pause and think before speaking—or tweeting— has become crucial. Restraint can be a powerful tool, and sometimes, the smartest move is knowing when to stay silent.

AS Roma game