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Alexi Lalas and the Tattooed Millionaires

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Apr 16, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Former MLS player Alexi Lalas speaks during the announcement of an MLS expansion team in Atlanta at Ventanas. PHOTO: Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

The United States Men’s National Soccer Team took some heat from former player Alexi Lalas the other day when he called them tattooed millionaires. He was largely talking about their loss against Costa Rica and draw with Honduras but his criticisms stem from the past few years of poor play. Lalas has some points but his crack about tattooed millionaires bothered my sensibilities.

I agree with Lalas in that the team has been performing badly for the last few years. I’m not arguing with the fact that many of the players have tattoos. I’m not really certain how many of them are millionaires but I imagine a few of them are so. My problem is the equation of tattoos and money with poor play.

If someone makes a bit of money, good for them. If someone wants to tattoo themselves, that’s their prerogative and I have nothing to say about it. If they play below their ability, that is something else entirely. Lalas can certainly recognize poor play more readily than can I. He is a former player with insight into the talent potential of the team and can compare that with results.

If Lalas says they are more talented than the results indicate, I would be happy to believe him except for the attached judgments that have nothing to do with performance. When he conflates body art and wealth with poor play I think he’s displaying childishness. It seems clear to me he is unhappy to not have received as lucrative contracts as the current players. He played in an earlier era and most likely earned less money. It’s also clear he isn’t a fan of tattoos. Both of these biases make his overarching opinion suspect.

This is the danger we face when we criticize people because we don’t like them, rather than upon their actual performance. This mentality is a plague across our country. If we don’t like someone, for whatever reason, we are more than happy to excoriate them regardless of what they are actually doing or saying. In fact, performance becomes secondary to personal preference and that is dangerous at every level; politics, sports, business, and life.

It’s not cool to criticize performance based on opinions of tattoos or salary. It’s fine to criticize performance for poor play.

I appreciate the point Lalas is trying to make. I think there is a fairly good likelihood he is correct in his opinion on the team’s play. I just don’t like the way he stated it, the way his opinions on performance are clearly tainted by personal distaste and salary envy. It’s ugly.

By Tom Liberman

Tom Liberman is a regular fellow from St. Louis, Mo., who enjoys spending time with his wonderful family and great friends. He writes Sword and Sorcery fantasy novels in his spare time. 

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