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Petulance is contagious

June 22, 2010
Hill By Jemele Hill

PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa -- There has been so much petulancy, ego and spoiled behavior at the World Cup that it makes Brett Favre's annual antics look downright magnanimous.

Diva must be in the water, and drama is certainly permeating the air in South Africa. France staged a protest against its own coach. And the English players and their head man, Fabio Capello, appear to have a deeper split than Jesse James and Sandra Bullock.

One thing these running soap operas prove is that American athletes don't own the copyright on rotten attitudes or fractured teams, despite the commonly held perception by many Americans that the foreign athletes who play for their national teams are somehow less selfish and entitled than the athletes who hail from the United States.

In 2004, the U.S. men's basketball team finished with a bronze medal at the Summer Olympics in Greece and was blasted by the American media and called everything from disorganized to lazy -- even though the reality was the rest of the world had improved so much that the American basketball players could no longer just show up and beat countries by 30.

No matter how much criticism the U.S. team received, the players maintained their professionalism. Contrast that with France's soccer team, which I've nicknamed The Bold, The Beautiful and The Disappointing. Although, I'm not sure that's quite as clever as the Guardian blogger who called France "Le Sulk."

French striker Nicolas Anelka was sent home for calling coach Raymond Domenech everything but a child of God behind closed doors, so Anelka's French teammates then got the bright idea to walk out of a practice session to show their solidarity with Anelka.

Things got so bad that French President Nicolas Sarkozy had to intervene. Sarkozy asked sports minister Roselyne Bachelot to prolong her stay in South Africa so she could play peacemaker between Domenech and captain Patrice Evra, who reportedly had a heated exchange with the team's fitness coach. The French Football Federation also announced it will fully investigate the rift once the World Cup concludes.

"We are taking note of the indignation of the French people and … calling for dignity and responsibility," Sarkozy told a French television station.

By that logic, Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder and coach Mike Shanahan should put in a call to President Barack Obama to help them deal with Albert Haynesworth. Quick, somebody revive the Warren Commission!

It's not just France that's getting cheeky. After two consecutive draws and scoring just one goal in 180 minutes of play, England's team looks as though it's in need of Ron Artest's therapist.

The English players called a team meeting after a 0-0 tie against underdog Algeria, when they were supposed to air their grievances, but Capello had other ideas. Capello reportedly silenced the players … at their own meeting. He barred them from giving their opinions on what's wrong with the team.

Makes Bill Belichick look positively touchy-feely.

After being booed unmercifully following the Algeria match, England's Wayne Rooney, who might be putting in the most disappointing performance of any major star at the World Cup, looked into the cameras and sarcastically told England's fans, "It's nice to get booed by your own fans. Very loyal." Or words to that effect.

Rooney, by the way, is expected to sign a new, four-year contract with Manchester United that will pay him roughly $185,000 a week. Capello draws an annual salary of $8.9 million. Well-paid sports figures who have come up small on the big stage? Millionaires who complain when they don't receive unconditional love after not meeting expectations? We're familiar with that, but the practice is far from being as American as apple pie.

Give any athlete millions, make him feel entitled or pressure him to justify his gigantic salary, and sometimes this is what you get. It doesn't matter whether his uniform is red, white and blue or green and magenta. Spoiled behavior lives on every continent.

This isn't to say that U.S. national teams haven't showcased rude behavior before the world. At the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, the U.S. hockey team decided the Olympic Village was in need of a face-lift and caused $1,000 worth of damage to its accommodations, breaking chairs and activating fire extinguishers once it was eliminated from the tournament. But as this World Cup has shown, there's no such thing as the "ugly American." Just ugly people.

Jemele Hill can be reached at