Colombian soccer star Andrés Escobar's "own goal" in a match against the United States in the 1994 FIFA World Cup on June 22 resulted in a 2-1 U.S. victory. It was the decisive play of the game, and the loss eventually led to Colombia's elimination from the tournament. Their fans took it hard, because Colombia was a favorite to win it all.
"Mom, mom, they are going to kill him!" my cousin Felipe said as he watched in horror and disbelief when Andrés deflected the ball into his own goal. My aunt quickly reassured him that no one gets murdered for a mistake of this nature, which often happens in soccer.
July 2 makes me shiver. That day, 19 years ago, my uncle Andrés Escobar, was murdered in cold blood, just 10 days after his own goal. The country was devastated by the loss, but not everyone blamed my uncle for the loss. In fact, fans and supporters greeted him back home with uplifting compliments, providing him support and encouragement in a difficult time. However, it took one misfit to end his life.
After a night out in a well-known restaurant in Medellín, a man approached my uncle and ridiculed him for the own goal. Witnesses told authorities that my uncle argued that a mistake like the one he committed could have happened to anyone, and that he obviously did not do it on purpose. My uncle left the bar, and got in his car.
According to authorities, the man, Humberto Castro Muñoz, along with two accomplices, followed him, and shot him six times as he sat in the driver’s seat. Muñoz, who confessed to the murder the following day, reportedly worked for Santiago Gallon Henao, who authorities suspect ordered the murder because of his gambling losses, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Incidents like this one were part of every-day life in Colombia. During the late '80s and early '90s, the nation was torn by violence, drug trafficking, and a failed state that was unsuccessful in fighting the war on drugs. Colombia had become the No. 1 producer and exporter of cocaine in the world. As the government tried to fight the drug lords, an unprecedented wave of violence and havoc was unleashed in the streets of the major cities throughout the country.
On any given day, bombs were detonated, gunshots were fired, and bodies kept piling up. These deaths were the result of a war where policemen, politicians, and thousands of innocent people were killed. Even soccer was not spared in the violence.
However, Colombia has come a long way on the war on drugs and is nowhere near the depths of crisis that it was 20 years ago. Violence has significantly decreased since the early '90s, and the new millennium has seen the nation rise from the ashes of chaos and become a safe, vibrant and charismatic country. People once again believe in a new fate for the country: a future where peace, progress and joy will pave the way for a new Colombia.
It is hard for me to explain how I feel about my uncle, since I was only one year old when he died. How can you miss someone whom you really never got the chance to spend much time with? How can you love and admire someone you only heard stories about? It's like idolizing a hero whom you've never met.
Despite this, I miss uncle Andrés. I miss his charisma, his joy, his tremendous will and perseverance. I miss watching him play the sport he loved, and the sport for which he gave his life. Always with a smile on his face, he had the gift to make people around him glow. It is remarkable how much people connected with him. When they speak of him, the words respectful, tolerant, charismatic, joyful, sincere and passionate always arise. People would often refer to him as "a true gentleman."
It is extremely hard not feel sorry; I wish I could have spent more time with him. I wish he was here with us. But I know he is watching us from above, being our silent angel. Andrés Escobar was too good for this world; he lived in times of indecency and bigotry. His story shall help us remember the importance of respect and tolerance. He once said, "Please, let respect be above all, for life doesn't end here."
Editor's Note: This story was first published in The Equinox student newspaper of Fairleigh Dickinson University and is written by our Colombian contributor Miguel Escobar who is the nephew of the late soccer star Andrés Escobar.