I cannot tell you how many hours of my life I have spent on a sideline watching my children play different sports. Needless to say, it’s a lot. All of them play at least two school sports and all of them are on at least one travel team. I blame my husband. He’s the athlete. I knew it when we met; he played on a men’s travel soccer team at that time.
Fast forward ten years and our oldest son started playing soccer. Then our daughter played. Then our youngest son. Yet, it was only in 2023 that I learned what offsides means in soccer. In other words, while I am a “soccer mom” by definition, I wouldn’t call myself a fan of soccer.
So, imagine my surprise when I binged the Netflix documentary Beckham. You certainly do not have to be a soccer fan to know who David Beckham is. If I had to guess, the reason I was sucked in was more likely due to being a fan of pop culture and a Gen Xer. I certainly knew David Beckham’s wife, Victoria, a.k.a., Posh Spice. I certainly thought he was easy on the eyes. But, if you asked me to name any of the teams he played for–or even if he was still playing–I wouldn’t know the answer. After watching Beckham, what stood out to me the most was not his wins or losses, but how he handled the scrutiny of the spotlight.
Before I go any further, I’ll ask you to think of your worst day at work. What happened on that day? How did you feel? Was your worst day public or private? How long did it take for you to feel like things were okay? Keep your responses in mind.
Okay, so David Beckham is this phenom from a young age. Like Tiger, Venus, and Serena, Beckham’s dad loves the sport and spends hours exposing David to soccer. Beckham’s dad’s passion is contagious and Beckham not only loves soccer, but he’s really good at it. Before his fifteenth birthday, he was named “Under-15 Player of the Year” and on his fourteenth birthday, he was a contracted player for Manchester United–his dad’s favorite team.
Fast forward to 1998. By this time, everyone around the world knew who David Beckham was. He was dating Posh. He was on billboards and magazines. He was considered one of the best soccer players in the world. He was playing for his country in the World Cup and something happened which changed everything. He got a red card in the World Cup game of England versus Argentina. As summarized by Adam England for www.People.com,
When England and Argentina met in the round of 16 at the 1998 World Cup, Beckham received a red card with the score at 2-2 and was subsequently thrown out of the game. Argentina's Diego Simeone initially fouled Beckham, and when Simeone stood up, he rubbed his knuckles against the back of Beckham’s head while the British star was lying with his face down.
In response, Beckham — who was still down on the ground — swung his leg out at Simeone, who then fell over. The referee, Kim Milton Nielsen, gave Beckham a red card.
After Beckham was sent off, England had to play the rest of the game with 10 men against Argentina's 11. With moments left in the match, England thought they’d scored through defender Sol Campbell, but Nielson blew his whistle because England's Alan Shearer had fouled Argentina’s goalkeeper, Carlos Roa, before the goal, so the goal didn’t count.
Because it was a tie, the game went to extra time and penalties. Argentina won the penalty shoot-out 4-3 after Roa saved two of England’s penalty kicks, knocking England out of the World Cup.
For David Beckham, this is arguably what his worst day at work looked like. It’s not just that the team lost, but millions of people watched. It’s not just that the team lost, but he was the one blamed. It’s not just that the team lost, but the whole country was now up in arms. I will never understand how fans, the press, and people, in general, can speak about and react to public figures in ways that are inhumane and outright uncivil, yet this was completely acceptable behavior toward Beckham. A news outlet printed a dartboard with Beckham as the bullseye. He was spit on. His coach did not show any support. He was booed, heckled, and jeered for over a year. People were hanging him in effigy. He and his family received death threats. People reacted to his red card as if it were a scarlet letter.
I can tell you even on my worst day at work, I have never experienced anything like this. Not even close. Nor will I. My guess is that your worst day cannot compare to Beckham’s worst day either.
As I sit and write this, I am a 45-year-old woman with life under my belt. My hope is always that with my age comes some degree of wisdom. Even so, I don’t know how I would be able to get out of bed and put one foot in front of the other if anything close to what happened to Beckham happened to me. I know I’d need a lot of therapy. In 1998, he was 23 years old. Yet, he not only got out of bed, he got back onto the field. This was decades before we made any attempts to normalize mental health and wellness, so he did this without the assistance of a therapist or other mental health support.
In addition to the incredible composure and resilience shown by Beckham throughout this harrowing experience, I couldn’t stop myself from reflecting on the fact that soccer is a team sport. Certainly, playing soccer with one fewer man on the field makes it nearly impossible to win. I will not defend the actions that earned Beckham the red card (though in the documentary, Simeone said he didn’t think Beckham deserved a red card). All of this is to say I am not letting Beckham off the hook for his actions, but soccer is a team sport. It’s not as if the other players on the field for England were hacks or slouches. They were their country’s best players. Period. While I can appreciate being down a player makes it nearly impossible to win a team sport, there just seems to me to be something unsettling about blaming one person when a team loses.
Here are my takeaways based on Beckham’s worst day.
It’s all about perspective. Though I don’t mean to minimize the feelings associated with anyone’s bad days, I do hope to express it could be worse.
Better days come after the worst. Beckham returned to his work and showed his bad day did not make him a bad player.
You are more than this moment. Beckham continued to play, win, and generate reverence. He was not defined by this single event.
Great teams support individual players. I want to be on a team where I feel like even if I fail, the team will have my back.
Mental health matters. When things get bad, seek help.
As my days of cheering on my growing children from the sidelines are gradually coming to an end, it's safe to say I may never truly become a soccer enthusiast. Nevertheless, my perspective on Beckham has taken a new turn. While he undeniably ranks among the greatest soccer players of his time, his prowess on the field isn't what will leave the most lasting impression on me. Rather, it is his remarkable resilience and unshakable composure in the face of adversity that I will admire. No matter how many games he won or goals he scored, it is how he responded to his worst day that should be applauded, celebrated, and written about.
P.S. In my post, "Fangirl," I wrote about the upcoming book, Teach Brilliantly, by James Nottingham. This week, my Catch is the ability to preorder copies of the book and/or to get James' author's discount on 10 or more copies. Trust me, I had the chance to read a copy already and it will not disappoint!
To pre-order single copies, click here.
To pre-order 10+ copies and take advantage of James Nottingham's discount, click here.
P.P.S. Please remember to...
Like and share this post
Check out other posts
Subscribe to www.lyonsletters.com
Buy and rate your copy of Engagement is Not Unicorn (It's a Narwhal) and
The BIG Book of Engagement Strategies