Fiery Player, Simmering Conscience
Wednesday, May 31, 2006
On the morning of April 24, Alecko Eskandarian finished practice with D.C. United, jumped into his sport-utility vehicle and showered quickly at his Georgetown apartment. He got back in his car and made it just in time for an event that had nothing to do with a photo-op or fan appreciation day.
Unbeknownst to many of his teammates, Eskandarian joined more than 1,000 Armenian-Americans in front of the Turkish Embassy. The demonstrators were trying to persuade the Turkish government, as they do every April 24, to recognize what is known as a forgotten genocide, carried out from 1915 to 1920. Later, the protesters marched to the Capitol.
"I wouldn't say I'm activist or anything like that, but it's something I believe in," Eskandarian said. "I don't think it's political. I just think it's a matter of justice. It's a matter of admitting a fact. There's a lot of people out there who have lost 1.5 million family members and they have no closure to that."
A 23-year-old professional athlete with a social conscience. What gives?
"Someone mentioned my name on TV at some point," said Eskandarian, pausing over lunch last week. "I was like, 'That's kinda weird, man.' I expected it to be on ESPN. But not C-SPAN, you know?"
Eskandarian is United's second-leading scorer through nine games. He is a compact, free-radical striker with four goals, two assists and one compelling comeback tale.
He suffered a frightening concussion last June at RFK Stadium and after missing 10 months and any shot at playing for the U.S. national team in this summer's World Cup, he scored a theatrical goal in United's season opener on April 2. The whole scenario was typical of Eskandarian's existence, which does not include much middle ground.
"The kid's life is like 'The Truman Show,' " United midfielder Josh Gros said. "Everything he does is dramatic. And I don't know what it is, but he always seems to find the pot of gold."
Like? "Like he kept talking about this band he loves, System of a Down," Gros said, referring to the alternative metal band whose four members are of Armenian ancestry and whose music espouses social and political views related to the genocide. "So he shows up at the embassy that day and there they are. He ends up hanging with System of a Down the whole day."
Said Eskandarian, "Very cool."
"He also meets Playboy models all the time," Gros said. "I have no idea where he meets them, but he does. He goes to a Wizards game once and ended up getting auctioned off for a date on Singles Night. The guy is unbelievable."
"Oh, and remember the Red Bull thing?" Gros added.