Four months ahead of the World Cup soccer tournament, one of USA’s opponents is embroiled in a sex scandal that’s had repercussions on our side as well. All Britain is currently abuzz with the news that central defender and England team captain John Terry has had an affair with his ex-teammate’s girlfriend. The exact status of Vanessa Perroncel, an underwear model from France, is unclear: Terry and others say that she’s Bridge’s ex, while others claim that she and Bridge were in the process of reconciling. This much is certain: She’s the mother of Bridge’s son. Terry’s a married father of twins. Terry and Bridge were teammates at Chelsea FC until Bridge transferred to Manchester City last year. They were good friends until this happened. They may be forced to deal with each other again if Bridge is selected for the English national team. (He’s on the bubble.) Awkward!
Bridge hasn’t said anything beyond a terse “no comment” statement issued through his publicist, but he’s reported to be upset, not surprisingly. Bridge’s new teammates at Man City wore “Team Bridge” t-shirts in the wake of the news breaking, probably to heap further humiliation on Terry as much as to express support for Bridge. Oh, and if shagging his friend’s girl isn’t enough reason for you to hate Terry, there is the fact that in the hours immediately following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he got drunk and taunted a bunch of American tourists. He gave up drinking after the resulting public shaming, and the British press and fans eventually wrote off that incident as a bit of youthful stupidity. Maybe it wasn’t. Maybe he’s just not a good guy.
All that aside, Terry is way too good a player to be dropped from the team, but the talk is that he may be stripped of the captaincy. In soccer, the captain’s status is much the same as it is in hockey — it actually doesn’t carry all that much power, despite the importance that players invest in it. Besides showing leadership in some vague, undefined way, the captain’s responsibilities are mainly acting as a liaison with the officials during games, and with the coach at other times. The decision about whether to retain Terry as the captain is up to England’s coach, Fabio Capello. It seems hard to imagine how Terry can continue as a team leader, but perhaps he has some chits to call in.
It’s hard to believe that there’s never been a high-profile scandal like this in American sports. Mavericks fans may remember the Jimmy Jackson-Jason Kidd rift that supposedly happened over Toni Braxton, but the players denied that anything ever took place. The same goes for the Joe Horn-Willie Roaf bust-up that the New Orleans Saints went through more recently. We also can’t count the two Yankees’ pitchers who swapped wives in the 1970s. That was consensual. Most athletes are smart enough to know that hooking up with a teammate’s wife, girlfriend, or baby mama tends to have an adverse effect on locker-room atmosphere. Still, the idea that through all the decades of baseball, football, basketball, and hockey, no one’s hormones ever got the better of their judgment? That’s like the idea that no great athlete was ever gay. The sheer numbers alone seem to make that unlikely.
It turns out that locker-room adultery has indeed happened in American sports. Prompted by the Terry scandal, Steve Sampson, who coached USA’s soccer team in the 1998 World Cup, revealed that the reason he cut midfielder and captain John Harkes from the squad shortly before the tournament was because Harkes had an affair with the wife of USA teammate Eric Wynalda. At the time, little reason was given publicly as to why a key player like Harkes had been suddenly dropped. Team USA performed dismally at that year’s tourney, and the few sportswriters who cared about American soccer at the time castigated Sampson as an idiot, partly because of what he did with Harkes. Now that decision looks more understandable. It was still wrong from a competitive standpoint, but it’s more understandable.
Tune in on June 12, when Team USA begins World Cup 2010 by playing against England. Will Terry still be captain? Will Bridge be on the team with him? Oh, and look! John Harkes will be calling matches for ESPN, while Eric Wynalda will be providing analysis for the Fox Soccer Channel. The World Cup does have a way of bringing people together.