Monday, July 07, 2014

I hate soccer

No, I don't. But every four years a vocal contingent of Americans lose their minds because other Americans are participating in the world's most popular event.

The rational person, when faced with the daunting task of being in a minority, asks himself what he is missing, why he doesn't feel the same way about a topic that most others do not. In some cases, he may find justification for his views. A pepperoni pizza, beloved in America, might be too greasy for his tastes. But at least he has tasted the pizza.

In contrast, the irrational person sees others enjoying the pizza, but because he prefers sausage as a topping, refuses to taste the pizza and condemns those who do like it. This person is far too common in America.

The rational person has tried soccer - really tried, not just turned on the tube for a couple of minutes, found no goals, and dismissed it - but tried to figure out what was going on, what the appeal is, etc. He has tried it not merely in the lonely confines of his living room, but has gathered with friends, which is the way it is meant to be viewed. He is surrounded by people who can help him learn the things he doesn't understand.

I have this untestable theory that the reason the NFL and college football have exploded in popularity in recent years - not that it wasn't already America's most popular sport since the sixties - is because of the camaraderie aspect of it. It's limited in scope, held for only 16+ weeks of the year, mostly on one day of the week, making it not merely a sport, but an event, ripe for being shared with friends and family. Bars are packed on Sundays. Why? Because people want to watch football with other people.

Baseball, on the other hand, happens every day for half a year. You know how eggnog is so good because you only have it at Christmas, or pumpkin pie because Thanksgiving, or anything else that is special because it only happens in a limited time frame? Yeah, that. Baseball is not an event because it's always there.

That's what the World Cup is. That thing that is more rare than a blue moon. And it's meant to be shared in the company of others, like eggnog at a Christmas party.

The irrational person says things like, "all they do is kick a ball around." I'm reminded of non-baseball fans who think baseball is simply throwing a ball and swinging a bat, or people who don't understand American football who can't see the game beyond the stoppages ever few seconds. You sound llike a moron when you say "all they do is just kick a ball around." Soccer is a game of geometry, with the players as the end points of line segments. There is always something going on. You just have to know what you're looking at.

The irrational person says, "soccer players aren't athletes," or worse, "if the US's best athletes played soccer, we'd win the World Cup every year." Good lord. The average soccer player runs 9.5 miles a game. That's 22 guys running a combined 154 miles, if that's the kind of stat you need to understand what's going on. Lebron James, cited by these same arrogant jerks as an example of America's best athletes, can't finish basketball games due to leg cramps. He'd never last on a soccer pitch, which, by the way, is much larger than an American football field. Perhaps the sedentary lifestyle of a good percentage of Americans renders them incapable of comprehending just how much running that is, how hard that is on the human body.

Furthermore, these haters make much ado about how soccer players are sissies for getting hurt so frequently. Granted, there is a lot of flopping going on (something you see frequently in the NBA as well), but you try getting kneed in the thight, kicked in the shins, and elbowed in the face repeatedly over the course of 90+ minutes without padding, aside from thin plastic shin guards which slows the process of bruising by mere milliseconds, I"m sure. Do you know how it feels to stop a ball traveling 70-80 mph? Ask anyone who's ever had a bruise in the shape of soccer ball patches. And headers? God knows how many players play with concussions after absorbing the full impact of a ball to the head. Headers can make you see stars.

The irrational person complains about the use of feet. This one actually floors me. Your hands are designed to use tools. Your feet are designed to walk. This game requires feet to use a tool. Controlling a soccer ball with your foot is HARD. Touches are everything in a game. Catching a ball with your hands is easy for the dexterous among us. If you have a problem with the use of feet in a game, well, you just don't have a clue. Even shooting a ball at the goal is difficult. You have to hit it on the right part of your foot and calculate the speed and angle you're going to need to get it past the keeper, who is always a giant of a man in the case of professional soccer. (At 5'3", I was not a giant of a keeper. But I managed to do pretty well (I held that state record for seven damn years, Rebecca Roggelin of Oregon Cardinal Stritch. Haha. By the way, number ten on on that career saves list learned everything from me when I was goalkeeper coach for the team. Ha.) I'd love to see these soccer haters try to kick a ball.

While we're on the subject of feet, it takes a certain density of the mind to have a problem with calling a sport that uses its feet "football," while defending calling a sport where the use of feet is minor by the same name. Once could argue that running is the foot part of the sport, but no one uses that argument. Instead, kickoffs, punting, and field goals are used as justification. Wat?

Then there are the completely insane diatribes. Soccer is a hipster sport. Soccer is a liberal sport. Sorry, Thom Loverro, but you just don't know what a hipster is. I think the term you were looking for was "people younger than you." Which is a sizable chunk of the population. But I still like your baseball columns. Just recognize that what you said was ridiculous.

I probably shouldn't even mention famed psychobitch Ann Coulter here, but in a twisted sort of way - not pretzel twisted but tornado, no, sharknado short of way - one could make that argument. Liberal-minded people - now, don't get your panties in bunches, folks, I'm talking about the real term, not the political one - tend to have more worldly experience, which exposes them to "foreign" things, as soccer is viewed by many of these haters.

My last point is in regard to US soccer fans and the way they are viewed by the haters. Haters think soccer fans are trying to shove soccer down their throats. If you were subjected to a constant barrage of insults towards the thing you love, you'd become defensive, too. If you hadn't opened your mouth to disparage the game, a soccer fan wouldn't feel the need to persuade you to change your mind. But you did open it, again and again, until that fan couldn't stand it anymore. Because that's what you do when you love something. You defend it. God knows how often I do it with baseball.

I've written this post in a notebook that has a metric conversion chart inside it. We're the only morons left in the world who cling to our nonsensical, outdated system of weights and measures. Ask any American how many feet are in a mile, and chances are, he won't know. We'd rather be stupid than adopt something "foreign." There's such a disconnect to any other part of the world, it astounds me. It's the same mentality that allows so many Americans to shrug their shoulders when we go off to another war. And they wonder why people fly planes into our buildings...

The haters just can't stand the fact that the World Cup games have had such great ratings.They lost their minds when the US numbers showed higher ratings than all college football games but the BCS and Rose Bowl and all the NBA finals games. They tried to say it was apples and oranges, that it only happens every four years, that people were only rooting for the country and don't like soccer, that the ratings lied. Of course, the low Olympic ratings, which only happen every four years and are country-oriented, disproved their arguments, but that didn't stop them from arguing anyway.

A lot of sports media ate their words. Many found themselves reluctantly getting on board, like Cincinnati's Mo Eggers and Paul Daugherty of the local radio station. Many Americans watched the first soccer games of their lives - and they liked it. On a personal note, Chris, aged 52, Washington Football Team supporter for life, was floored by how excited he was to watch the games and how he couldn't take his eyes from the screen for the full 90+ minutes. We got to the bar one or two hours early just to get a seat for all of the US games. Many others told me they had never watched a soccer game and expressed their amazement that they were so into it. That Americans were finally participating in something with the rest of the world was simply beautiful. That's what I miss most about the US team being out of it, that sense of global camaraderie.

The fact is, anyone who says soccer didn't win over fans or will never take root in America is just in denial. Will it be as popular as American football or baseball? No. Those games are interwoven into the fabric of our society. But every four years we see we were not wrong in saying that soccer continues to make its way into our sports psyche. It's time we stop talking about the "four major sports in America." There are five.

So no, I don't hate soccer. But I hate the same tired whininess that crops up every four years by people whose heads are so far up Uncle Sam's ass that they can't participate in something beloved by the rest of the world. Because...shh...don't tell them...the rest of the world is not inferior to America. These Americans who reject the rest of the world, however, sure are inferior to them.