There’s a lady – no, a woman, but hardly a lady – who has made a career out of selfish, xenophobic agitation. People read her columns and get upset, or worse, at her meanspirited insulting words. Her screeds get passed around in disgust and it all ends up giving her more readers and more publicity. She speaks with the certitude of the ignorant, and the vindictiveness of someone who might actually realize, deep down inside, that she is wrong about most of what she says.
I won’t pay her the compliment of a link or the use of her name, but if you don’t know who I’m talking about yet, maybe this will help:
This particular woman wrote a few weeks ago about Association Football, known worldwide by the latter of these words and in the States by an abbreviation of the first word – soccer. This woman threw every aspersion her fetid mind could generate at this game, this recreation that enlivens so many lives on this too-often-dreary planet. With the power and influence and reach she’s got, the best she could think to share with the reading public was something along the lines that Americans who watch soccer, and the World Cup in particular, are sapping our national jism and losing us the war on terror.
Well I watched my share of the Cup and enjoyed it too, and my boys are soccerers well and truly. I can absorb a few barbs my own self but there’s no way in hell I will sit by while a hateful bigot insults my kids, even through their sport of choice.
It benefits no one (but the antagonist of the essay we’re discussing) to answer a fool according to her folly, so I tried to channel my outrage in a more productive way. I tried to imagine – for she really offered no specifics – what she found so offensive about soccer, what about it was “unAmerican” any more than bike racing or boxing or whatever. And because I am a deeply clever person I was able to identify her most likely concerns, better than she herself did in her column. Naturally these concerns are all devoid of any rhetorical value, or even rational content, but my dander is up so I’ll break it down one piece at a time anyway, just so I can walk away from all this ugliness with a clear mind.
1. Soccer is a game without breaks. You get 45 minutes with the clock running, and then some, before you pause for a commercial. That attenuates corporate co-opting of the sport culture. In smaller words, businesses make less money during the games, and viewers watch games with fewer interruptions from businesses. Soccer has no Gatorade Gamebreaks or Aflac Updates. And maybe this woman thinks this is a bad thing, either because multinationals need more opportunities to rape our popular culture, or because this woman is incapable of 45 minutes of uninterrupted attentiveness. Either way it’s a weak plank.
2. Soccer players can have multiple allegiances. World Cup players all play on their own different club teams, as well as together on the national squads. This underscores the distinction between nation and corporation. For this woman, though, nation and corporation are conjoined. The USA is a brand, itself composed of trademarks owned by a few dozen corporate giants. If soccer casts that commonality into an unflatteringly lurid light, it must be antiAmerican. For the record, my view is pretty much exactly the opposite.
3. On the stage of world soccer, the whole world is represented. Europeans, Africans, Arabs, Asians, and New World nations of Latin heritage all contribute players of the highest caliber. But when it comes to our nation of nearly 400 million souls, most of our best sports talent is diverted elsewhere. Consequently, our home-grown soccer stars are often of a lesser magnitude when compared to those from nations that more assertively emphasize soccer development. We play with heart, but that’s not the only muscle of significance in this game. As far as this woman is concerned, it seems that any game at which Murkins are not by definition the world’s best, is not worth playing. She seems to prefer a smaller stage of pre-annointed national champions, competing among themselves for a star-spangled prize. But that’s certainly not how this nation became great, or even good or whatever it is today. Picking only the battles you’re sure to win, is too limiting a proposition for a big-thinking people like us. If America is to justify its opinion of itself as a world power, it should try its strength against the world – and when it occasionally loses, it should learn and return stronger, not cut and run in an isolationist fug.
4. Soccer is a team sport, even more than our primary national pastimes. There are superstars in soccer but their moments of brilliance are fleeting – the game is played with passes, retrenchments, coordinated attacks, feints, and a group dynamic that verges on being organic. This is also true for some mainstream Murkin sports, but for this woman, USA is apparently inextricably tied up with NFL and MLB, and that’s not the way those teams operate. Those are teams of individuals who each occupy specific positions and play clearly-defined parts. These parts all fit together in a concatenation of individual efforts. We think of great sluggers, great receivers, great pitchers and quarterbacks… but not the team structure, the great outfielders or centers who make their achievements possible. Their contribution is too often washed out in the glorious radiance of the big stars. Soccer players, on the other hand, cover more ground over more minutes of continuous play than any of our big pro ballers, so they must rely on their teammates more. In soccer more than in many sports, individuals score but teams win. And I guess that’s not egocentric enough for some folk.
5. Soccer is often low-scoring, which offends the Murkin addiction to excess. Then, in case of a tie, you either resort to a shootout – which even devotees of the sport richly detest – or you walk away with a draw. Neither of these is satisfying to the Murkin ethic of forcing things until you get a winner and a loser, till you can distinguish the righteous from the fallen. God picks winners and a tie defeats his supernal purpose. That’s what I think this woman thinks. Now, some people know that this is ridiculous. They know that a soccer pitch is about the size of an NFL field, but you run it like a basketball court. Soccer players work their asses off and don’t get down-time. If after 90 (or 120) minutes of play they still haven’t been able to thrash out a winner, maybe it’s appropriate to call the teams evenly matched. If that’s not good enough, a tiebreaker is the only way to end the madness. Maybe in a tournament with different stages, a team can advance to the next round on points even if it loses a game. Things must be brought to a close when the contest cannot resolve itself on its own standard terms. The clock is part of the game. You don’t necessarily become a loser if you don’t beat the other team. What’s wrong with that?
6. In soccer, bigger isn’t always better. Top players can be short, and that diminutive size can be a real advantage in ball-handling and evading defenders. But this woman is used to giant athletes, to the point that anytime one is the normal size of a normal human it makes her confused. However, even big soccer players are not bulky and endomorphic. They need to be agile and to sustain a high level of exertion for a long period of time. They must be able to leap high and to take to the turf; they must not be so large as to make accidental contact with opposing players. A player who may be called the world’s best today, stands five foot six inches tall. Superstars on the pitch can be norm-core on the street. This might confuse my antagonist. She seems to be one who prefers her superheroes supersized, so she can tell at a glance who’s good and who’s bad. Because America has the biggest economy in the world and that makes it the best in the world (putting aside that we’re far from first in any number of other rankings). For those whose minds are too simple to navigate the nuances of variable sizes and variable skill levels, the “size matters” philosophy is comforting. Personally, I’d like to think I’ve moved beyond that.
7. Soccer players are not above taking it to the turf – sometimes for reasons more theatrical than otherwise. They will flop around like they’re getting an EKG if someone steps on their shoelace. It’s pretty ridiculous, especially when you can hit replay and zoom and see just how groundless their posturing on the ground sometimes is. Granted, some of those dudes actually break their backs or crack open their heads while playing, and real injuries are a real concern. But there’s too much play-acting and whining for my taste sometimes. Instead of just playing the game, they pervert the game by playing about other things like who ran into whom. It’s petty and childish and detracts from the true skills on display with the rest of the players. And actually, this is probably the best reason why this woman probably should enjoy soccer more than the average American – she’s so good at feigned outrage and falsified injuries, she could bite her own shoulder and blame you for it. So that’s a reason I don’t want her watching soccer, I guess – she’d only learn more about how to do what I find most irritating about her.
And with that, I will stop doing something that I find irritating about myself – complaining. I’m better than that. I am now that I’ve got this off my chest, anyway.