Soccer patriotism

I LOVE SOCCER. That is something I would have been unable to say last week, before I started watching World Cup play. Does that mean that I will now turn my back on baseball and football – my two favorite sports – and basketball (my favorite sport during playoffs if the Spurs or the Rockets are involved)? No.
Does it mean that I will join my futbol-crazy friends and relatives who gleefully go out of their way to put down and ridicule all or some of these other sports and their fans? Hardly.
Baseball will remain my first love, and football will be not far behind.
What it does mean is that I will be more open to soccer and to the explanations of its fans as to why it’s a beautiful sport. I will try to learn more about its rules and other intricacies so I will be less ignorant when I watch a match.
I believe there is beauty and grace to be found in all sports. They are different in each sport and that is why different kind of personalities like different kinds of sports. Just because one sport appeals to our sense of what is beautiful and graceful in athletics does not mean that those who go for other aspects in other sports are wrong or stupid or ignorant.
Some of us love Mustangs and some of us love Camaros. Some of us like horror movies and some of us prefer comedies. Some of us go for Quarter Pounders while some of us love Whoppers (and still others among us would never be found dead in a fast-food restaurant). That’s just the way the world works and the sooner we accept that, the better off we’ll be – the better we will be able to unite in praise and admiration of beautiful athletic performances and achievements, in all sports.
I am glad that fubol is accumulating new fans every day, and I appreciate the role of World Cup competition in attracting new fans every four years so that soccer teams in the United States – high school, college and professional – would enjoy the same kind of fan support that football, basketball and baseball enjoy.
I believe that day will come, but not anytime soon, and I am amused by the way soccer fans cling to every news story showing that TV audiences for World Cup matches exceeded those of NBA playoff or World Series games. Those numbers are meaningless, when you think about it. They are comparing manzanas to naranjas.
While there are diehards sports fans who will watch all playoff games in all sports regardless on which team is playing, I think most people are like me: they will watch playoff games if their teams are playing. In football, baseball, baseball, hockey and other such sports, it is one American city’s (or one region’s) team competing against another’s for the championship, so the fan base is naturally limited. The rest of the country may or may not give a hoot, and it usually doesn’t.
We watch the Super Bowl not because we care about teams that much, but because we want to be part of what has become an annual national ritual, a Holy Day of Obligation.
It is significantly different in World Cup competition, where it is America’s team (USA! USA! USA!) competing against foreign teams, and if there is one thing Americans are good at, it is patriotism (most of it is shallow as hell, but that’s another story) and disliking foreigners. World Cup soccer is tailor-made for the kind of fan enthusiasm we’ve been patting ourselves on the back for these past few days. Moreover, Americans have been so bitterly divided about so many things for so long that we welcome with hungry arms anything that allows us to tear down those walls that separate us and to become one people, even if only for 90 minutes (plus overtime, of course) at a time. After so many years of hurling insults at each other, it feels so much better to spew disparaging words at unknown foreigners wearing another country’s jersey
If we had similar international championship competition in the other sports – separated from the Olympic games – we would see the same kind of fan enthusiasm.
It was exhilarating to watch news reports of fans crowding into Soldier Field or other such venues to watch the United States lose to Belgium. But my guess is that the vast majority of them will never pay to go watch a Major League Soccer game. I’d love to be proven wrong.
So yes, soccer is on the rise, and that is certainly something to celebrate. But I hope we can keep things in perspective. It is, after all, just a sport, just as baseball is just a sport no matter how many books George Will and others write arguing that it is more. And I hope that this week’s competition will mark the beginning of the end of the denigration of soccer and their fans by those who think American football (or any of the other major sports) is king. And vice versa.

About juanzqui7

Former Texas reporter, columnist and editorial writer.
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