If you’ve watched any of the World Cup here in the states on the tele, then no doubt you’ve seen Red Stripe’s infamous commercial, with the Jamaican Ambassador of beer making the claim that ugly people become beautiful while holding a bottle of their brew. While it’s been a few years since I’ve had a Red Stripe, I can’t vouch for it’s ability to turn all things ugly into wondrous beauties, but I can say that watching World Cup has confirmed, for me, what a beautiful sport it is.
Our American problem with soccer remains an enigma, although understandable in its reasons. In the 7/3/06 issue of The New Yorker magazine, Jeffrey Toobin wrote in Un-American Activity about the dilemma of Americans not embracing this world sport. “Soccer fans in American are evangelical in their fervor, yet cultish in their number,” he stated. Sums it up about right, I’d say. Listening to the radio the other day here in Northwest Ohio, the announcer attempted to ride the World Cup buzz wave for his next talk show segment, imploring his audience to “Stay tuned for some talk about real football…not that other one where men run around in skimpy shorts.” Ouch.
Could it be that we can’t relate to Football (aka soccer) because it isn’t manly enough? That somehow macho only works with beefy sweathogs in pads and helmets, whereas World Cup is essentially prancers in synthetics? Anyone who has watched the last few World Cup matches would argue that soccer, much like rugby, can easily get physical at times. I guess “manly” means wearing a cup so someone can stomp you in the groin without complications. Real men (soccer players) take it au natural. (For those not watching World Cup, this refers to Britain’s striker Rooney, who red-carded out of the match when he “unintentionally” stomped on the groin of an Portugal opponent).
A Toobin further stated, “Soccer is the Canada of American sports, viewed less with contempt than with indifference,” so I’m not sure what it will take to turn our attention and pension for spending millions on sports paraphenalia, one sure sign that America embraces a pasttime. It’s one thing to see an overweight, American armchair quarterback wearing a jersey emulating No. 7, Ben Roethlisberger. Not sure I really want to see the same beer-bellied wonder wearing a different No. 7, that of Mr. Beckham.
We also have a warped sense of the phrase “World Champions.” Every year we hold a World Series in baseball and crown the survivor “World Champion,” yet they are all American teams save one token Canadian representative. We call our dominant football team who wins the Super Bowl “World Champion” in the same ignorant attitude that America=World, since only American teams compete. Of course, our foreign political agenda seems to sprout that same attitude, so this shouldn’t be a surprise.
It’s not that I personally care if the rest of American figures this out. I’ve discovered the grace and excitement of the sport, so I’m happy following it as best I can, content in my un-American appreciation of a true world sport. In fact, there’s admittedly something of an allure precisely because it’s less appreciated here, resulting in a decided specialness that embraces all that is world soccer. One downside, of course, is struggling to find a sports bar to watch World Cup on the tele in a town where Big Ben Roethlisberger was born, raised, and is still worshipped, and where every third car around here sports some sort of Nascar iconic sticker or decal. With soccer, again according to Toobin, “…likely to remain roughly as popular as it is now: somewhere behind hockey and ahead of bowling” I guess it’s not yet time to buy futures in soccer bumper stickers and bobble head dolls. At least, not if you’re an American living in America.