Today, after Colombia’s soccer victory, 2-0, over Uruguay, Colombians are experiencing feelings of pride, self-worth, and national unity.
Twenty years ago, during the 1994 World Cup, Colombia arrived as one of the favored teams and the expectations were also high. The stadium was packed with the yellow, blue and red. The horns blew, the flags fluttered.
Then, Andres Escobar, Colombia’s tall lanky defender, scored a goal on his own team. In his face, seconds after it happened, you see the defeat and the disappointment forming the empty hole in this twenty-four year old’s stomach—the realization that his life will never be the same again.
Andres was the team’s captain. He could not walk down any Colombian street without being asked for an autograph. He was who the advertisers called when they needed a role model. Before the World Cup, he already had offers to play with Mexican and Italian teams, and to his fiancée, he spoke about what their life would be like in Milan. In that second of confusion, when the ball slid off his leg and he kicked it toward his own team’s net, all that was finished.
The team returned to Colombia with long faces, and the country greeted them with equal chagrin. It was hard for Andres to leave his house in Medellin; the taunts, “nice goal” and “you caused us the game,” accompanied him everywhere he went. His team members, who feared for their own lives, advised Andres to stay home, to lay low. The once-happy fans were beyond angry.
One night, July 2, 1994, Andres felt he needed to break out of the self-imposed prison in which he was living, and he went out to a disco. There was the expected teasing, “congratulations on that goal,” “loser,” “nice goooaaal.” And Andres drank to numb it out. Later, at 3 a.m. in the parking lot, people approached him and began accosting him. Someone yelled “fag” and someone else touched his behind. Andres erupted back.
Then, he was shot. The killer yelled “GOOOOOOOOAL” for each of the twelve bullets fired from the 38-caliber pistol.
Apparently, the mafia had made large bets on the team winning, and Andres scoring on his own team lost them a lot of money. Humberto Castro Muñoz, a driver for the Gallon brothers, a family of powerful drug traffickers, was found guilty and sentenced to forty-three years in prison. He was released after serving eleven years due to good behavior.
More than 3,000 people attended Andres’s funeral. His shooting made world headlines. The fans, suddenly, had a change of heart: “This is shameful,” and “This should not have happened to a young man,” and “Why did this happen?” Through tears, the fans erected a statue in Medellin to honor Andres.
Andres Escobar’s story exposes raw human nature. In one second, the passion of disappointed fans turned them into raging beasts; then, the finality of death transformed them into weeping repentants.