Javon Walker, Meet Andres Escobar

Joe GSenior Writer IJune 18, 2008

Athletes make easy targets.

Their fat wallets and high profile lifestyles tend to make the wrong type of people jealous. The kind of people desperate enough to do something stupid

In just the last two years, the sports world has seen Antoine Walker robbed at gunpoint in his own home, plus the tragic shooting deaths of Sean Taylor and Darrent Williams. Now another athlete has been the victim of a high-profile crime, Oakland Raiders receiver Javon Walker.

Walker was beaten, robbed and left in the middle of a Las Vegas street. All things considered, he is probably lucky to not still be in the hospital or worse. His attackers just wanted some cash. 14 years ago, a Colombian soccer player wasn’t so lucky. Javon Walker, meet Andres Escobar.

Colombia came in to the 1994 World Cup with expectations running high. They had made it to the knockout rounds in the 1990 World Cup and were expecting to improve on that. A 5-0 thrashing of Argentina in qualifying made Colombia look like a legitimate contender.

Unfortunately, the Colombians were preparing for the World Cup amidst rumors of heavy betting syndicate and drug cartel involvement. Colombia’s head coach allegedly received death threats over squad selection, and apparently made a squad change due to these outside influences.

Colombia responded with an unfocused and shaky effort you would expect in the first game, a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Romania. This loss made their second game against the United States essentially a must-win game if they hoped to advance.

The match between Colombia and the United States was played at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena in front of over 93,000 fans. The Colombians appeared to have the upper hand early as the US scrambled to parry away several serious goalscoring opportunities, at one point clearing a shot out of the mouth of their own goal.

Then, in the 35th minute, the US was able to capitalize on a counterattack. Well, sort of. American defender John Harkes put a cross into the box and with the Colombian goalie out of position, defender Andres Escobar stretched and put out a boot to deflect the cross. The ball deflected into his own net in what would become the most tragic own-goal in soccer history.

The goal completely deflated the Colombian team and seven minutes into the second half, they found themselves down 2-0, the game out of reach. The US would win the game 2-1 and qualify for the knockout rounds as one of the top two third-place finishers in the group stage. Colombia, despite beating Switzerland 2-0 in their third game, crashed out of the World Cup as the last place finishers in Group A.

Now, Escobar was highly regarded by soccer fans everywhere. He had been nicknamed “El Caballero del Futbol” (“The Gentleman of football”) by fans. He was important to both his club and country. He returned to Colombia upset about the early exit from the World Cup, but undoubtedly looking forward to moving on with his career.

Ten days after the tournament, Escobar was leaving a nightclub in his hometown of Medellin. Several different accounts of the story can be found, so I’ll just stick with the basics. A man who was apparently still very upset about that own-goal confronted him. Some people say that Escobar was shot six times, others say twelve. The police reported that as each bullet was fired, the attacker shouted “Goal!”

27-years-old, with his best years ahead of him, Andres Escobar was killed because of a mistake that hundreds of others have made on the pitch. It was an absolutely senseless killing. No matter how passionate a fan is, a player can’t possibly make a mistake that justifies murder. An arrest was made in 1995, but after being convicted and sentenced to 43 years in prison, the killer was released after roughly 11.

What’s the point of this? An athlete being victimized is not a recent phenomenon. It’s human nature to want what they have. But robbery, assault, kidnapping (again, something you see in soccer circles) and murder are not appropriate ways to express this. It’s sad to see the people we turn on the TV to see being cut down in this fashion.