SAY IT AIN’T SO, RAFA

 

The recent announcement that the great soccer player, Rafa Márquez, is allegedly implicated in the drug trade in Mexico is one of the lowest blows ever received by Mexican soccer fans. It’s up there with the losses to the USA and Argentina in world cup competition.

For the past twenty years, many of us have looked up to Rafa as a supremely talented futbolista, a pillar of sportsmanship, and all-around clean-cut mexicano, deserving of our deepest respect. If anyone could qualify to serve as a role model for Mexican children both south and north of the border, he is the most likely candidate to be picked. And God knows Mexicans need some positive role models nowadays.

Those of us from Michoacán have been especially proud of this man who for years has defended la nación en la cancha de fútbol with the fire of the legendary Niños Héroes, that supposedly went down fighting the gringos at the Battle of Chapultepec in 1847, yet off the field he has always projected an image as sweet as the chongos from his native city of Zamora.

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Monumento a Los Niños Héroes en el Parque de Chapultepec

The news reports put Rafa in the company of the singer, Julión Alvarez, as the most prominent Mexicans that the U.S. Department of Treasury listed as prestanombres for the narcotraficante, Raúl Flores Hernández. Most people will likely conclude from this evidence that Rafa and Julión are two famous Mexican icons equally fallen from grace. The accusations, however, could have very different outcomes.

Julión is a popular singer with a large following in Mexico and parts of the United States. His association with a drug cartel will probably enhance his reputation since, in a strange way, it might give him some street cred with his fan base, many of whom may be attracted by the “Robinhoodesque,” romantic myth that permeates what is called, narcocultura, a culture with a powerful appeal particularly among many young people in both Mexico and the USA.

Rafa Márquez, on the other hand, is not a regional icon. He is a sports figure who has left a profound mark in Mexico, Europe, and the United States. He began his professional career in Club Atlas de Guadalajara then moved on to France to play in el Monaco where he won a league cup. But it was with the culés of Barcelona that he made his name, winning various championships including the UEFA Champions League, the first Mexican ever to do so. He did a stint with the New York Bulls and then returned to Mexico where he helped Club León win two championships. He’s now back with el Atlas. Moreover, he has played with the national team in four world cups, always playing with distinction even when La Selección has fallen short of our expectations. But in other international competition, he has had better luck with the national team winning la Copa de Oro y la Copa de Confederaciones.

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Rafa’s stature in sports, then, is well beyond that which Julión Alvárez enjoys in the world of music, which is at best mediocre. In the world of soccer, that is, throughout the globe, Rafa is revered and respected as a first-class player. For these reasons, I’m sure many, especially in Europe, are shocked at the news of his alleged involvement in the drug business in his native country and, for others, it is a reminder of the extent of the corrosive impact that the drug cartels are having on Mexican society, where no one seems to be immune from its tentacles.

In these dark times that Mexico is going through, its people are in dire need of heroes, especially those that young men and women can look up to and emulate. In the past, sports have served the country well in this respect, providing many: Fernando Valenzuela, Hugo Sánchez, and Julio César Chávez, to mention but a few. Rafa Márquez has been on this pedestal for twenty years, El Gran Captitán de la Selección Mexicana y del Club Atlas. He is part and parcel of the best that Mexico has produced and contributed to the world of sports.

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Therefore, like many of his fans around the world, I hope Rafa can clear his name and prove his innocence. A good sign is that he willingly appeared last week at the Office of the Attorney General to respond to the allegations made against him. The whole nation is waiting on the outcome of this turn of events. For if it is true that Rafa has given in to the temptations of the drug trade, his fall from grace will be so resounding that, for many of us, it will be as mighty and sad as any of the great Greek tragedies.

 

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