© 2023 Peoria Public Radio
A joint service of Bradley University and Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Opinion: At last, freedom for dad

Liverpool's Colombian midfielder Luis Diaz celebrates after scoring the equalizing goal during the English Premier League football match between Luton Town and Liverpool at Kenilworth Road in Luton, north of London on November 5, 2023.
JUSTIN TALLIS
/
AFP via Getty Images
Liverpool's Colombian midfielder Luis Diaz celebrates after scoring the equalizing goal during the English Premier League football match between Luton Town and Liverpool at Kenilworth Road in Luton, north of London on November 5, 2023.

Luis Diaz of the Liverpool Football Club in the UK could have drawn a yellow card last Sunday in a match against Luton Town. In the 95th minute, as time expired, Luis Diaz, also known as Lucho, leapt high and bounced a header into the goal to tie the score, 1-1. Then he lifted his jersey to reveal a message. It wasn't an ad, political slogan, or some trash-talking taunt of an opponent. Capital letters across his tee-shirt declared: LIBERTAD PARA PAPA. Freedom for Dad.

Lucho Diaz's father, Luis Manuel Diaz, was being held by the Colombian guerilla group ELN. Mr. Diaz and his wife, Cilenis Marulanda, were kidnapped at a gas station last week. Ms. Marulanda was soon left in a car abandoned by her attackers, but they kept hold of her husband.

Niether Lucho Diaz or his parents have spoken out about politics, social issues, or drug crime in Colombia, where his family lives. But Lucho Diaz earns $3 and a half million dollars a year playing for Liverpool. Sergio Guzman, director of the Colombia Risk Analysis group, told us, "His fame and wealth make his loved ones targets for hostage taking."

Lucho Diaz missed Liverpool's first two games after his father was kidnapped. But football has been a foundation of his life, and his family, since the age of six, when he went to a small football school run by his father, and was nicknamed Luchito. He was a pro player by the time he was 19.

It is against the rules for a player to lift their jersey and display any kind of message. The league wants to prevent players from using their uniforms as platforms to launch political statements, to harangue opponents, or advertise any business that hasn't paid the required millions for their corporate logos to be emblazoned across team uniforms.

But no official flashed a yellow card. Premier League executives didn't levy a fine. Football officials seemed to recognize that what Lucho Diaz had written across his body wasn't a slogan, jeer, or ad. It was a loving son's cry for the freedom of his father.

And on Thursday, Luis Manuel Diaz was released by the ELN. He had been held hostage for nearly two weeks.

And that game in which Lucho Diaz scored the last goal and lifted his shirt to call for his father to be freed? The final score was a draw: Liverpool 1, Luton Town 1. But fans have a lot more than the score to remember.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.