Our American brethren are delighting in the World Cup. And so they should be. Not only are the Red White and Blue through to the knockout stages, but they’ve advanced thanks to a coherent team ethic and some strong individual performances. The on-field success for the US has translated into packed fan parks, record viewing figures, and a huge boost to the already burgeoning popularity of the game across Atlantic.
However everything in the US is political, so of course one right-wing media pundit has decided to piss all over everyone’s fun by decrying the “growing interest in soccer” as “a sign of the nation’s moral decay“. Fortunately, this castigation came from Ann Coulter, a pundit whose career as a contrarian borders on, as Alyssa Rosenberg argues in The Washington Post, “performance art”.
Yet taking the syndicated columnist at face value, her objections run thus:
“Individual achievement is not a big factor in soccer. In a real sport, players fumble passes, throw bricks and drop fly balls — all in front of a crowd. When baseball players strike out, they’re standing alone at the plate. But there’s also individual glory in home runs, touchdowns and slam-dunks. In soccer, the blame is dispersed and almost no one scores anyway. There are no heroes, no losers, no accountability, and no child’s fragile self-esteem is bruised… the prospect of either personal humiliation or major injury is required to count as a sport.”
“In a real sport, players fumble passes, throw bricks and drop fly balls – all in front of a crowd.”
A fumbled pass, such as when US defender Geoff Cameron mishit a clearance in the early minutes of the game against Portugal? The ball went straight to Nani, who shot past Tim Howard – all in front an audience far bigger than has ever watched one of Coulter’s “real sports”.
“When baseball players strike out, they’re standing alone at the plate.”
Like Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev’s shocking error against South Korea in the team’s opening match? But if you’re looking for real individual responsibility, how about a player stepping up to take the fifth kick in a penalty shootout knowing that a miss will send his national team out of the World Cup?
If a baseball player strikes out to lose a game, there’s often another one the next day. The World Cup is staged every four years, with one player nearly always responsible for an entire nation’s progress or elimination – all in front of a global audience of millions.
“But there’s also individual glory in home runs, touchdowns and slam-dunks.”
A player gaining individual glory, such as Lionel Messi scoring a wonder goal in extra time against Iran or Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa single-handedly denying Brazil’s potent frontline a goal?
“In soccer, the blame is dispersed.”
Of course, it was the entire Italian team’s fault that Claudio Marchisio got sent off. Likewise, everyone with a Uruguayan passport is to blame for Luis Suarez biting Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder.
“There are no heroes, no losers.”
Quite right – there are no heroes such as John Brooks, the young substitute whose 86th minute header gave the USA an unlikely victory against Ghana, paving the way for the Klinsmann’s team to gain passage out of the group of death? I presume a nine match international ban and a four month stadium ban would make Luis Suarez the most obvious loser of the 2014 World Cup… so far.
“The prospect of either personal humiliation or major injury is required to count as a sport.”
The prospect of personal humiliation such as that suffered by England player Steven Gerard, who made two catastrophic errors during the match against Uruguay that led to England’s early exit? As for major injuries, the sport is littered with broken legs, concussions, career-ending tackles and, in some fortunately rare cases, even deaths.
“Most sports are sublimated warfare.”
Here Coulter is quite correct. There is no clearer sublimation of warfare than football. Witness the Argentinean team unfurling a flag that read “Las Malvinas son Argentina’s” before their World Cup warm-up game against Slovenia.
So here’s the rub: Coulter knows nothing about football, but has attacked “soccer” because of its European heritage, arguing that it represents the collective over the individual. This plays into the conspiratorial mindset of many conservative Americans who fatuously believe that the European nations, with their mixed economies and socialised medicine, are Bolshevik enclaves, while bemoaning “communist fifth columnist” Barack Obama for attempting to bring down the American way of life by reforming the beleaguered US healthcare system in the form of the Affordable Care Act.
What football represents is not only a freedom to gain individual glory and make individual mistakes, but also the possibility of the triumph of the group, where a nation can achieve more by working together than simply relying on the personal self-interest of the players.
If you’re looking for individualism and self-interest, members of the England squad are currently sat playing Xbox 6,000 miles from Rio. The American team, with arguably lesser individuals but a far stronger collective mindset, is still very much in the tournament. The notion of the American dream has two components – individual as well as collective (national) achievement. As such, “soccer” is probably just about the most American sport there is.