The owl incident: from the power of social media to respect, sport’s core essence

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Saturday, 27th February. A regular league matchday all over the world, including Colombia’s 1st division. Well, almost. The match between Junior and Deportivo Pereira (2:1) was marked by Panamanian footballer Luis Moreno (Deportivo); but not for his football skills, rather for his famous kick and “owl murder”.

What actually happened? The incident started in 74th minute when an attempted clearance from the Pereira full back hit Junior’s mascot – the owl. But the real shock came a few seconds later when Moreno decided to get the clearly injured animal off the pitch by booting it into touch (see video).

“Le Misérable” Moreno instantly became one of the most hated people in the country and the main topic of all the debates in public, media, social networks etc. Later on, things couldn’t go any worse: the owl died two days later and Moreno is getting death threats and faces up to three months in jail.

Of course, Moreno’s intention was definitely not that bad. He also apologized but it was obviously too late. It was impossible to avoid the negative consequences in the era of social media and rapidly dissemination of news. Blogs, videos, forums, comments are nowadays probably the strongest “opinion maker”. That’s why the worst nightmare for Moreno came a few days after the incident.

If we take a closer look at Moreno’s actions we can see a few of the essential errors he made, although he was acting instinctively. First of all, he should pay more attention to the opponent. I’m not talking about the players, tactics etc., but about the club and its symbols, tradition, customs… Second of all, respect is one of the most important things in sport (and life). He didn’t respect – not only the animal – the competitor and its symbol. Further on, where are the ethics and fair play?

As we can see, Moreno made a bunch of mistakes. Every single athlete should be aware of the said things. But he wasn’t. And that’s why he’s going through really bad times. I’m sure he would never have done what he did had he known the story and the importance of the poor owl. Moreno will go down in the history of sport and football as the “owl murderer”, which is his most often used nickname lately.

However, every story has a bright side, and so does Moreno’s (although not for him). He should be a clear example of how NOT TO treat the rival and how NOT TO respect his symbols (mascots) and tradition etc. He actually failed on the first test of sport education, which is respect. His experience – and I’m really sorry for him – should be a big lesson for many athletes. Don’t forget, disrespect may kick you back.

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