I am a massive sports fan. I love baseball, basketball, football and American football, in that order. I avidly follow various professional sports teams. My happiness, on any given day during the summer, in part depends on whether the San Francisco Giants won their ballgame. So I get sports, I follow sports, I’m into sports. Every four years, I go nuts watching the Olympics (though like most American sports fans, I completely ignore most Olympic sports the rest of the time).
So the World Cup is, for a guy like me, basically a pure party. Pure fun. Every since it started I’ve been, well, basically this.
I actually came a little late to soccer. Growing up, it was not on my radar. But when Salt Lake City got a major league soccer team, Real Salt Lake, I followed them. They were the local team, after all. And my son became a massive soccer fan, intense and knowledgeable–through him, I learned a lot about the strategies and intricacies of the sport. I’m still very much a neophyte. But what I lack in comprehension, I more than make up for in enthusiasm. Go USA!
And is there anything more awesome than those Kiefer Sutherland/Jack Bauer pre-game promos? Or this one, for the Ghana game? (Except Kiefer Sutherland was actually born in Great Britain, and is rooting for England to advance!). The US team is gritty, tough, courageous. A bit undertalented, but blessed with a world class goal keeper, and a bunch of players who play in the MSL, the American domestic soccer league, instead of working as mercenaries in the Bundesliga or Premier league. Plus, we have four players who were the offspring of US servicemen and German girls. Brings a tear to my eye, to think of our soldiers patriotically sleeping with frauleins, all for the glory of our future national soccer side!
So, yeah, I’m a fan. Go USA! And I’ve watched all three US games so far, and at least some part of every other game in the tournament. Well done, Costa Rica! Valiant effort, there, Iran! Splendid football all around, Netherlands! Sorry about that, England and Italy! Boy has it been fun.
And then there was this column, from Ann Coulter. Who hates soccer, and thinks the rest of us should too. In fact, who seems to think it helpful or necessary to inject soccer into our American cultural wars. Apparently, real Americans don’t like soccer. “No American whose great-grandfather was born here is watching soccer.” Liking soccer (or pretending to like it) is akin to the metric system; intellectually bankrupt rubbish being foisted on us Americans by Europeans. And so on.
I think it’s possible that this column is an attempt at humor. I don’t have any evidence to support that theory, since it’s not remotely funny. Humor comes from truth–that’s why stand-up is the site for observational humor. Ann Coulter tends to respond to critics of her work by saying ‘where’s your sense of humor?’ So I think she fancies herself a comedic writer. It’s possible that I don’t understand conservative humor (though I do rather like P. J. O’Rourke). But if a comedian says ‘did you ever notice why all frozen peas are the same size,’ we only laugh if we have noticed that, and think it’s true. Since Coulter ‘observations’ aren’t true, they’re also, ipso facto, not funny.
Very quickly, though, since she has ‘reasons’ for hating soccer, let’s deal with them:
“It’s boring.” No it isn’t.
“Really, it’s seriously boring.” Any sport can be boring for people who don’t understand it, who don’t know the rules or strategies or tactics or players. You need to invest some time and attention. If you do, it’s amazing. I don’t think I breathed the whole USA/Portugal match.
“Every single game ends either 0-0 or 1-0.” You have no idea how intense a nil-nil tie can be. So much drama, so much riding on every attack, every save, every possession. And in this World Cup, scoring is way up. But yes, one of the features of soccer is that goals are very hard to come by. That’s why it’s so exciting when someone finally scores.
“You can’t use your hands in soccer.” Hey, good for you! You learned one of the rules. And you say, ‘the glory of being human is that we have opposable thumbs”. And also really strong leg muscles, so we can kick the ball really hard. ‘Kicking’ is a feature, not a glitch.
“Little kids play it, and when the game is over, get a juice box.” Actually, yes, it’s a terrific sport for children. Boys and girls can play it well, and it’s fabulous exercise for them. Good soccer players are fit. And yes, little kids like juice boxes.
“It’s not a sport for individual achievement.” Anyone who could say that has never seen Lionel Messi play. But it is true, soccer’s more about teamwork than individualism. But, you know, I just watched the NBA final, Miami vs. San Antonio, and the Spurs won because they were the superior team. And it was beautiful, watching the ball movement and defensive shifts and screens and block-outs. I love basketball, and the glorious passing of San Antonio, the pass leading to the pass leading to the easy shot, it was as pretty as that sport can get. And baseball is an ‘individualist’ sport, pitcher v. batter, but is there anything lovelier than an outfield relay, or a double play? And football, my gosh, it’s entirely built on 11 guys per side supporting each other, playing as a team. Ann Coulter doesn’t hate soccer, so much as she hates what’s best about all sports.
Mostly, though, she doesn’t like it because people all over the world love it. It’s a sport for furriners. So, fine, it’s a bad sport for xenophobes.
But here’s what’s wonderful. We see these countries, Nigeria and Iran and Ghana, poor, messed up countries, and we don’t know much about them except really terrible things. And then we think, “there’s got to be something better in Iran than the mullahs, something better in Nigeria than Boko Haram.” And then you realize that, yes, there is something better, some grace, some beauty, and we’re seeing some of it, passion and dedication and sportsmanship and humanity, right there, on that pitch, playing football. Integrity and honor and competitive fever. Teamwork and patriotism and sacrifice.
I love the World Cup. Go USA. And go Germany, or Argentina, or Brazil, or Uruguay. Whoever wins, I’ll be watching. And I’ll be cheering.