Guest Column

In defense: The art of the dive

Photo: Earl Gardner

Editor’s note: Guest writer Joel Lorah decided to offer a different view — different in American sports, at least — on diving. Here it is.

We are a nation of fans that love contact, especially in our professional sports.

A hundred-year fascination with boxing has become in the this century an affair with full-contact mixed martial arts, from balletic jabs and right upper cuts to full contact gladiators in a steel cage. Dana White has built a UFC empire entertaining thousands and thousands tuning in to see a kimura, rear naked choke, Thai kick to the head, or Superman punch send someone reeling toward unconsciousness, blankly staring at a referee who is watching for the tap out or circuitry of brain shut down and reboot. (And Wrestlemania? Don’t even get me started.)

Baseball fans know the high and inside heater and its message: “Back off the plate, or I’m loading up the four-seamer next and screwing it between the name and numbers on the wool of your jersey.” Charge the mound if you dare.

We love when the NBA big men banging bodies in the paint and smacking a driving thunder dunk.

Sundays are a sacred day to revel in the chin-jarring separation of helmet from body hit in the NFL — human missiles set for maximum destruction after church and lunch.

The hard core niche fans of hockey? Most US hockey aficionados love the contact and fighting, fists bloodied from landing more on the helmet than the chin. The toothless grin of the enforcer on the ice, practically a North American icon all his own — Dave Schultz for us Bullies fans. Contact and its ferocity are escalating as the athlete becomes more and more superhuman in their prowess power strength and speed.

In our country, we don’t just like contact. We love it, we crave it, we need it. The aggression and violence fills gaps in our lives in unknowable ways, whether through sport, or any number of prime time shows on the TV. We build our hero narratives around the tough guy and the snarl. America is the free safety of football in search of a moving target — always has been and more or less.

Herein lies the problem with how soccer and diving are perceived by a strong majority of American fans.

The art of the dive

The diver is an anti-hero, a rogue. At best, I’ve heard divers called effeminate and, at worst, emasculating vaudeville-like theatrical play actors with no regard for the spirit of the game.

Here is a list of the more “common dives” one can see on any given Saturday or Sunday. Feel free to name a few of your own.

  • The Below Knee Amputation (BKA) or The Double Leg Amputee or simply The Suarez. Luis Suarez tops the list, as only he would bite someone and then fake cardiac arrest after displaying almost all the named dives below at once.
  • The Dutch Master Hands Up in Supplication to the Holy Mother Dive — AKA The A. Robben.
  • The (Edvard Munch) Scream Dive AKA The Branislav Ivanovic. If you’ve heard it you know it.
  • The Mortally Wounded (not getting the call) 1-2-Pop Up and Play on Anyway Dive.
  • The Stooge Poke: Stop, drop roll and writhe and writhe and writhe and writhe.
  • The FIFA 15 Player Dive, AKA U9 Travel Soccer Saturday Morning Special Dive. (I see this one a bit too often from young kids for my taste.)

And my favorite two:

  • The Vanishing Knee Cap Slide Dive (and then Shrug and Smirk), as seen when a boot or elbow has touched Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro.
  • The Refusal to Dive or Go Down so Defenders Scythe and Scythe and Scythe — take a guess who this one is named after.
Why diving has a place in this sport

Yes, this aspect of soccer tends to be wide open to ridicule, argument, and opinion.

But the dive exists to keep the game honest and in line with the value of aesthetics that maintain the beauty in The Beautiful Game. It’s a strategy, an exaggerated attempt to be sure the referee maintains order in a game dependent on the free and rhythmic expression of unabated movement. The dive helps maintain the game’s creative integrity and serves a useful function. More often than not, the dive is an embellished attempt to rightly guarantee a call from an obvious infraction that could be easily missed on the huge swath of a field being patrolled by one person. Typically, it is a warranted foul, and it can be argued that, were it not for the player falling to the ground, the call would not be made, thereby tacitly allowing more and more physical contact as defenders become emboldened to use their physicality to dictate the game, its flow and its rhythm.

We can argue all we want whether players should be punished for embellishment. And yes, sometimes players have no tact and are rightly carded for a dive or do not receive the call. Some players carry their reputation like grass stains on their knees and are rightly stigmatized by their persistence to try and yield phantom calls. I am willing to concede FIFA could explore certain aspects of how diving alters the game or ways to met out the audacious dive.

But in no way does the dive or the diver diminish the integrity of the holistic game, just like the charge in basketball does not diminish the integrity of basketball.

From a holistic standpoint, the dive is integral. For every player who takes a header on the turf feigning pain, there is a Marco Verratti probing the referee’s adjudication by using guile, quickness and willful deception to get a call and carve out his right to space, whether deserved or not. I’m all for it.

25 Comments

  1. Now we know who Alejandro Moreno writes for this blog.

  2. its part of the game….always has been…….always will be. Its a way to protect yourself…………its a way to suck the life out of a match………its a way to stall……..its a way to get someone booked or tossed……….its a way to piss the other team off……….its art!

  3. Maybe my definition of a dive is different than the writer’s. I don’t think going down because of contact is a dive. A dive, to me at least, is the embellishment of contact that wouldn’t have warranted the player to go down in a heap in the first place. Going back to Sunday’s game, I found myself screaming at the T.V., foul, foul, that was a foul, FOUL! Infractions that would be called in other leagues around the world, including my beloved EPL, just aren’t called in MLS. As the writer has indicated, some may say it’s America’s penchant for contact that leads to the non-calls. But I’d have to disagree. I’d say its lack of professional officiating. The EPL is known around the world as a hard-hitting league. If you leave the ball to far away from your body, you will receive a crunching tackle for your mistake. But their ref’s know the difference. Match after match. Weekend after weekend, our officials show their ineptness at being able to decide, with clarity, the infractions laid down by the offenders on the pitch. More often than not, MLS refs bungle calls, over-react, or completely miss infractions. Which results in the examples the Union have faced already this year. Non-calls, over reactions(the Fred red card), no penalty shots. Until MLS addresses their lack of professional officiating, ‘dives’ or over-exuberant reactions to fouls, are more than necessary in-order to draw attention from MLS refs that something is amiss. But again, in MLS, I wouldn’t necessarily calls this a ‘dive’.

    • Agreed, there were several times were Union players were fouled from behind, where the Fire player never got the ball and we did not receive the call. One on Nando in the first half comes to mind. When Lahoud did the same thing to a Fire player, they got the call.

    • Well said.
      .
      I’ve argued vehemently regarding the physicality of the league and how MLS has found itself in this place for the most part this becomes an exercise for fun and making light of diving– all the while arguing for its place in the game. The nature of the embellishment, as you write, is what becomes subjective from the viewer’s or reader’s POV.

  4. I assume this is our comment section Joel- great to see him in the guest column rotation, it had to happen. And if the Union continue to have a bad year, I can look forward to June’s 25 paragraph rant- filled with flowery prose- on just how terrible they are. Good job Joel.

    • I can only hope the Union will still be viable by June 25th. But a great subject by the author. One, that I think needs more attention from MLS and fans alike. The more light that is brought to MLS refs and their inconsistencies, the more likely there will be change and higher standards required to be a MLS ref. And which should also help advance MLS to become one of the worlds top destinations for world class players.

      • I would agree that MLS refs on a whole are poor to middling. However that’s been the complaint since I started following the league closely about 10 years ago. I don’t really know if the standard has improved in that time or not. We all want better reffing, but I don’t know how to get there.

  5. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Fully agree that full-time salaried referees are a sine qua non for progress in the league.

  6. pragmatist says:

    Diving is cowardice. You are admitting you are not good enough to beat your opponent on your own.

    It is the lowest form of cheating available and should be eradicated from all sports.

    • What about when you have just beaten your man 1v1- you have him but he pulls on your shoulder just a bit creating the half second that creates separation from you and the ball which then allows the CB to step and destroy the play and the whistle is quiet.
      .
      You just beat your man and no call. This is the intersection of Where and When. This is why the context matters and why your absolute statement does not serve your argument well. Beat him 1v1. Fouled. It’s the Suarez. Has to be.

      • pragmatist says:

        That defender made a smart play. If it’s a foul, let the ref call it. If he misses it, it won’t be the first time or the last time a red misses a call.

        You are promoting soft players. You are promoting deception instead of skill. Yes, you beat your man, doing what you do best. The defender stopped you, at a risk of drawing a foul. That what he does best.

        There is never a valid excuse for diving. It’s cheap and cowardly. Play the damn game.

      • You are a person who holds honor in high regard and I appreciate that as evidenced by your position. I too am honor driven but also think willful deception is alluring as well. Thanks for comments.

      • pragmatist says:

        I mean no disrespect. As you can tell, this is a topic that burns me. It is the single biggest issue that gets to me in professional sports. Unfortunately, our game takes it to an absurd level (although the NBA is making wonderful strides in catching soccer).

        Here’s a counter: If you dive, you should get a card. Embellishment is a foul and deserving a booking, according to the rules. If you can promise me that embellishment will be called as frequently as the foul you are exaggerating, then there may be more level playing field. Without a greater enforcement of this rule, I see no defense of diving or embellishment. Even with that rule being enforce, I think it’s the cheap way to make your point. But it might be slightly more justifiable.
        All in all, it’s an embarrassment when it happens, to any degree.

      • I agree with your first two lines here pragmatist….the ref sets the parameters of the match. If we are in the situation Joel said above…I agree, I should go right at you straight up. But if I get mugged a few times…and nothing is being called….I may go to down easy for a few reasons:
        1. To make you think twice about doing the same thing again
        2. If it puts my squad in a good set piece situation…all the better
        3. To set the parameter for the ref because he isn’t calling anything
        Another reason to take one: if your team is getting shelled and your on the back foot….a timely one can disrupt the other teams momentum and flow. All sports do it…it’s just our way because their are no stoppages in the match! Where you think it’s teaching being soft, I respectfully disagree….it’s called gamesmanship. Most of the guys you see on TV that dive…grew up in the hood……I’m pretty sure their not softies! I’ll also agree that going down for the sole purpose of getting someone sent off is complete BS….there is certainly no honor in that. Basically, there are are dives that all players, coaches, and educated spectators know is part of the match…..then there are others that we all know are cowardly and ruin a match.

      • Joel, congrats on the piece! I saw the author and thought it had to be you. We’ll done and nice topic. You know how many times playing or coaching I had teammates or players break into the box getting mugged/pole axed from behind and they tried to stay up and get the shot off…only to get nothing on the ball like they wanted too. As they get up and run back into shape….before it could even get out of my mouth they would say……”I should have went down”………..

    • It’s not necessarily admitting that pragmatist, I have to disagree here. I have and have seen players tooling on their opponents to get them so wound up they want kick the crap out of you…when they do…you pull the “ivanovic” to put them in the book….it’s all head games and demoralizing your opponent. Messi and CR7 dive and draw cards….and can also run past and dribble through five guys when they feel like it too……so your theory about diving admitting defeat…doesn’t hold water to me. Footy has a whole lot of nuance to it.

      • pragmatist says:

        By that principle, you’re saying that guys who take dives are doing it for the purpose of playing head games and setting players up for future fouls. That’s a bit of a stretch.
        And to a broader point, why isn’t that dive being whistled with the same regularity as the offending fouls? That issue seems to be overlooked.
        I don’t mind head games. But Michael Jordan didn’t flop to get in someone’s head. He just beat his man and stared him down. He didn’t need to demean himself or his game.

  7. James Lockerbie says:

    My two favorite soccer youtube videos for those whom may not have seen https://youtu.be/S0d9V7wdocAthem yet. https://youtu.be/mvPIr0iBfjw

    • This is so good. An absolute perfect response to this piece and exactly what I was aiming to achieve. Levity.

  8. James Lockerbie says:

    My opinion on diving is it’s a tool. Sometimes the right thing to do is dive and gain the penalty kick. I recall last year when Marquez or Ribiero stood tall and almost got the shot off. His other option would have been to drop to the ground like a piano had fallen out of the sky and hit him over the head. I am pretty sure he would have earn the penalty kick.
    `
    Now when you use the tool too often it becomes dull. Hoppenot has gone to ground so often, so easily his diving tool is a dull butter knive

    • And because of that reputation, Hoppenot has lost almost any chance at getting a foul called when he really has been.

  9. First of all, Joel, great piece. I look forward to more articles from you, and hopefully some of our regular commenters on this site.

    I tend to view diving as part of the game if done in moderation, as others have mentioned. I don’t have much respect for those who go to ground when there is no contact. But when a player goes down on occasion from moderate contact, he can potentially influence the next challenge. The defender may take an extra millisecond on the next run to consider his actions, and the referee may look more closely at the next challenge when it occurs.

  10. Just seeing this after spring break Joel, and as expected, it is fantastic stuff. Well done.
    .
    My 2 cents: I look at it like a necessary evil for all the reasons you describe, but I wonder how the game would change if FIFA really did take a hard line against it. I think having refs that have played the game at a decently high level would help for one. But if players all the sudden stopped embellishing, I think you would see refs start to call more fouls. The problem is that their image of a foul now includes a player falling dramatically.
    .
    Best way to spot a dive: If a player falls and his arms go up in the air = DIVE. The human brain naturally reaches for the ground when falling. You have to consciously turn off that reflex to dive.
    .
    Also, I hate that some players/refs get criticized for falling/calling a foul when no contact occurs. If a player “dives” to get out of the way of a potential injury from a rash challenge, and no contact occurs, it still should be a foul–not a dive.

    • You know I never thought of the reflex. Good call. The Hands up in Supplication to the Holy Mother now comes with more understanding.

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