Some fellow on the radio tells us that the United States’ soccer squad has been eliminated from the World Cup competition by a team from some country called Belgium. Being properly patriotic sports rooters we were disappointed to hear it, especially as Belgians are apparently some sort of Europeans, and it’s always embarrassing to lose to those guys in anything, but we must confess some relief that the nation’s attention can once again be diverted from our pressing economic and political problems by baseball.
Go ahead and watch soccer if you want to, as we are of a libertarian bent and therefore tolerate all kinds of cultural rot, but as a mindless distraction from the world’s woes we much prefer baseball this time of year. This prejudice might well be proof of what old-fashioned fuddy-duddies we’ve become in our middle age, as well as the nativist xenophobia and heterosexist preoccupation with phallic symbols and all that stuff that is so typical of people with our right-wing political views, but we make no apologies. We’re Americans, damn it, and prefer an American game.
We’re Americans of a certain age, too, which we means grew up playing sports other than soccer and haven’t failed at the game nearly enough to appreciate the talents of those who play it well. Soccer fans have tried to convince us of the aesthetically-pleasing athleticism and subtle strategies that they swear are involved in the seemingly random meanderings of the players, but we remain unconvinced. Despite our best efforts at objectivity, we find the sport suspect for several reasons.
You can’t use your hands in soccer, for one thing, and this strikes us as an offense against both God and sport. We used to suspect that soccer was a communist plot to keep America’s youth from hurling hand grenades against the invading Russky hordes, and although soccer seems to have outlasted the Soviet Union and we can’t think of any other plausible conspirators it still strikes us as damned suspicious.
All those foreigners in the game are troublesome, too. Soccer fans seem to regard the overwhelming presence of foreigners in the sport as proof of its worthiness, and will wax poetic about the “world’s game” and cite their affinity for the game as evidence of how very cosmopolitan they are, but we are unimpressed by their claims of being citizens of the world. When the world ratifies a constitution that guarantees our rights of freedom of speech and bearing arms and not having soldiers quartered in our homes we will consider renouncing our American citizenship and embracing a game that doesn’t allow the use of hands, but at the moment the world seems downright hostile to these ideals and unhealthily willing to forego the use of hands.
Nor does the rest of the world seem any more civilized than the average American baseball, basketball, or football fans. The stadia where the National Football League conducts its brutal contests are famous for the fisticuffs and boorish behavior that pervade the stands, but the most face-painted fans there are a veritable PGA gallery compared to the hooligans that predominate at soccer games. Even the Oakland Raiders don’t have such a grisly death toll as soccer, and their fans are more well-behaved than the hooligans who populate the seats at soccer games around the world. Racists taunts are reportedly common at soccer games, by both players and fans, but rarely heard at American sporting events where almost everyone has a rooting interest in a competitor of another race. One of the more intriguing side stories of the World Cup was about the Mexican fans’ traditional chant of “puto” against a certain hated foes, which we’re told translates as “homosexual prostitute” and is intended as a most hateful epithet, and it was fun hearing the politically correct press reconcile its revulsion for anything homophobic with its indulgence for anything foreign.
Such exquisite sensitivities seem an essential part of soccer’s appeal, and another reason we’re indifferent to the game. When soccer first became a part of the American sporting scene it was through the American Youth Soccer Organization, and all the bumper stickers that adorned the minivans hauling the kiddies to the little league “pitch” promised that “Everyone plays.” This is taking egalitarianism too far, as even the most carefully raised youngster intuitively understands that playing time should be earned by superior performances, but has an understandable appeal to the doting modern mom. Those “soccer moms,” so assiduously courted by Democratic candidates for the past many election cycles, also seemed to prefer soccer to baseball because it didn’t involve the supposedly soul-crushing failure involved in a sport where even the best major league teams will lose 60 games a season and the most skilled batters fail to get a hit more than 60 percent of the time. Soccer is a fairly rough sport, judging by all the melodramatic flopping that the players indulge in whenever they make contact with a momentarily outstretched limb, but we can’t imagine that it inures a kid to life’s inevitable failures the way an 0-for-4 day at the plate does.
Go ahead and watch soccer if you want to, though, and we’ll hope you enjoy it. Perhaps you’ll notice that aesthetically-pleasing athleticism and those subtle strategies we keep hearing about, and we really wouldn’t want to deny the satisfaction. None of the teams will be wearing “USA” on their jerseys, but feel free to root for any country that isn’t currently at war with us. The Wichita Wingnuts have a home stand coming up, though, so we’ll be down at the ballpark watching men use their hands.
— Bud Norman