In trouble away from home
The French soccer player Yannick Kamanan, who played for Maccabi Tel Aviv until a month and a half ago, will never forget that terrible night at a Herzliya nightclub. The huge scar on his hand is a constant reminder of what happened.
Of course, the alcohol which blurred everyone's senses played a large role in the story. Kamanan, who was accompanied by Congolese soccer player Alain Masudi, wanted to have a drink somewhere with music. A sexist remark directed at Kamanan's girlfriend by a local reveler got his blood boiling, and Kamanan's angry response led to a counter-response. One thing led to another, then suddenly Kamanan felt his hand cut by a broken glass.
"There are quite a few crazy Israelis who get angry quickly," said Masudi, well-known on the Tel Aviv nightlife scene since coming to Israel a few years ago. "The minute you speak to someone you have to take into account that it could end in blows and a hospital visit."
His colleague Kamanan, who has meanwhile left Israel for a Cypriot team, said that "there are places of entertainment where the kind of people who go there are much more violent than in other places. The mentality of the Israelis is different from that of the foreigners who go out to have a good time, and this gap leads to quite a few problems in bars. It's enough to just ask a simple question of some girl, and you don't know what the reaction around you will be."
Two days ago, Maccabi Tel Aviv's D'Or Fischer joined the long and growing list of foreign basketball players who ended a night's outing in blood, and with headlines the following day. Fischer, as with most of the other cases before him, "merely" responded to a remark made about him.
The circumstances in which the incident blew are not yet clear. The results, as everyone agrees, are regretful. The player was slashed in the face by a glass bottle thrown at him by a group of young revelers, and he needed a three-hour operation. Thus, once again, Maccabi Tel Aviv finds itself in the midst of a sorry scene.
The affair of the car accident involving Will Bynum, who was on Maccabi's roster last season, has not yet evaporated, and now Fischer will remind them what they would rather forget. Bynum was in a sensitive position after a verbal confrontation broke out at the G-Spot nightclub in south Tel Aviv, and ended with him apparently injuring a local man.
"It is always upsetting to hear such cases," said Maccabi's manager, Monni Fanan. "Tel Aviv is a lively city with many temptations, and it is attractive to sportsmen the world over, not only to basketball players. A lot depends where you go to enjoy yourself and which places you frequent."
During the happy-go-lucky days of the Croatian coach Neven Spahija at Maccabi Tel Aviv (2006-2007), the coach was often seen polishing off a few glasses of excellent whiskey with the rowdy players. The blurring of borders between the coach and his players could be seen as an opportunity for him to ensure they would not cross the red lines on alcohol-filled nights. But the players also received from the coach legitimacy to stay out until the wee hours of the morning.
And, indeed, it is difficult to demand of professional sportsmen to look at Tel Aviv from afar and not enjoy what it has to offer. They have plenty of free time, and need to fill those hours. So they go out and enjoy themselves among the locals.
"Tel Aviv is a city without a stop in more ways than one," says former Maccabi star Mickey Berkowitz. "The temptations are great, but a person must know how to set limits. You need great personal discipline as a professional athlete who earns very high sums."
But that was not the case with Derrick Sharp. No one believed that Sharp, the Maccabi captain, would get involved in a physical fight with a local clubgoer. One can say quite a few things about him, but he is no troublemaker. But four years ago, when he left the Sporteque in Herzliya, it happened. Like other foreign players, he found himself being questioned by the police for assaulting a passerby. True, the case was soon closed, but it was too late to erase the headlines.
"The problem is that there are a large number of arrogant individuals in Israel, who push in at nightclubs and are not pleasant, as if they are looking for a brawl," says Cory Carr, a basketball player with Hapoel Holon. "Personally, when I run into things like that, I simply leave the place so as to avoid unpleasant incidents. We Americans go to places where they have the music we love - hip-hop and R & B. We don't choose the place according to the kind of people who go there, but rather the kind of music. Perhaps the solution is for pub and nightclub owners to play more hip-hop music that is suitable for us, so we won't go to other places in more problematic areas."
The foreign players' lack of understanding of the places of entertainment is compensated for by their friends' recommendations, by which they navigate the nightlife spots. The sports clubs also try to provide them with superficial guidance, but in the long run, it is up to them to make their own decisions. For the most part, they find themselves in the places that give them the kind of entertainment they want, and remind them of their homes thousands of miles away.
"We don't really know where it is worthwhile going out and where not," says Chris Watson of Hapoel Holon. "The combination of young people and alcohol can cause problems. It's a dangerous mixture that can drag people into unpleasant situations. But after all, it is hard to stay home all the time and get bored, so we go out from time to time. We just have to know how to identify if something bad is going to happen, and leave that place before it does."