I have noted before that I couldn’t care less about soccer.
This week, however, that’s changed, at least for a little while.
I am not really a fan of any kind of sport; if there isn’t the slightest chance of either making something into supper or something making supper out of me, I’m just not that into it as a sport. I don’t count swordfighting, since that’s more like an exercise program.
I like baseball as a matter of principle, especially anything from the minors on down. I don’t care who I’m rooting for, as long as the baseball players are shorter than my old DiMaggio Special Louisville Slugger.
Football and basketball hold no interest for me.
Golf? Pfft. A waste of good pasturage and hunting ground.
I’m fairly sure hockey falls into a gray area between a ballgame and a sport where something might eat me, but it still does nothing for me.
I think my feelings – or lack thereof – for soccer go back to elementary and junior high. Our school didn’t have a football team—football required more players than we had students in some classes, as well as a heckuva budget – but we had soccer. In fact, we had several darn good soccer teams. I never played on any of them, but they knew what to do with that round checkerboard.
From September through November of each year, my friends in public school treated me as something of a pariah, because I had no football loyalty; I didn’t attend Dunn High (although my brother and sister did) and I didn’t attend Erwin until my freshman year, when every new kid is a pariah. I didn’t care that much either way. I’m fairly sure there was a federal law against soccer being broadcast on television back in the 70s and 80s, unless said game was from a foreign country and there was no conventional sporting event that day.
Soccer, as far as I was concerned then, wasn’t a big deal. Even today, while I appreciate the physical fitness required for soccer, it doesn’t register on my radar. Baseball, that peculiarly American sport, has a certain beauty in its rules; if A happens, then B and C will follow. There is gentility and stability in the math and science of baseball. All that remains to be seen when the pitcher’s fingers open up is where the ball is going, and who is faster. It’s largely a fair playing field, from the numbers standpoint. Football is about smashing into people, and basketball smells bad.
But for the past couple weeks, as my dear friends April Johnson and Ian Radford have become somewhat…intense, I have become a soccer fan.
Not because of the sport, but because of the principle.
Team USA is competing for the World Cup, which I am told is a big deal. Team USA is also, according to two polls, the most “hated” team in the World Cup competition. Yet those fellows have behaved themselves as gentlemen representing the greatest country on Earth, and I salute them for that.
During my brief, pitiful sporting careers in junior high, we still dressed to go to away games. We were expected to be a good reflection of our parents, schools and teams. That wasn’t always the case, but it was drilled into us.
Most professional sports teams these days seem to have lost sight of that. Between celebrating alternative lifestyles, excusing criminal activity like drugs, alcohol and misogyny, and criticizing players who try to show their faith, pro sports lost their appeal to me years ago.
But Team USA, thousands of miles from home in a town that makes Las Vegas blush, has reason to hold their heads high. Despite the ever-questing efforts of the press, at this writing, no nasty scandal has reared its head over Team USA. It seems they could give the Secret Service some tips on how to behave when abroad, but that’s a column for another day.
These young men have dealt with hecklers in the stands, on the streets, online and in the press, and have just given an All-American boyish grin and driven on. I don’t claim to understand the mechanics of soccer tourneys, but apparently even though they lost to Germany, Team USA can still win. At this writing, I think they are getting ready to play Belgium, or some other country we liberated from the Nazis so they could adopt a semi-socialist government.
No one from Team USA has bitten anyone recently, which is more than you can say for some American boxers, or the Suarez feller, who really needs to have a snack before hitting the soccer field.
No one from Team USA has made any controversial political remarks; instead they have confined their comments to what they know best, soccer.
No one from Team USA has gotten into trouble for smoking pot and kicking people’s seats in a theater (like that silly young actor the other night, who insisted the New York Police couldn’t arrest him).
No one from Team USA has pointed a finger at a member of another team and called them names that had to be censored in the closed captioning. (I saw that on a clip, and it was rather amusing, in a way). Instead, Team USA shook the hands of the Germans who beat them. Some of the Germans looked confused.
Fear not—I am not trading in my camouflage or my riding jeans for team colors. I have no particular desire to learn the rules and mechanics of soccer. If I watch a ball game on July 4, it will be baseball, preferably live, and preferably sitting on a set of rickety bleachers with a bunch of proud parents who could fit their little Babe Ruth and his or her whole team in the minivan, with room to spare. I’ll more likely be fishing, but that’s beside the point.
For just a little while over the next few days, in spirit at least, I’ll be one of those hooting and hollering as our country comes together for a little while, and a dedicated group of young men have the chance to make all their dreams come true as they chase a round checkerboard across a field in a foreign country.
Go, Team USA.
You’ve already done us proud by showing the world that, no matter what they think, Americans can have class.
You guys might get beaten on the field—but you will never be defeated. You’ve done your country proud, and almost made me a soccer fan. You’ve shown the world—and a lot of Americans—how it’s supposed to be done.