published Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

Cook: You had me at nil

IF YOU GO

• What: River City Co.'s free World Cup viewing, USA vs. Belgium

• Where: Miller Plaza

• When: Coverage begins at 11 a.m.; match begins at 4 p.m.

Watching World Cup soccer feels like a third date.

Things are going really well. There's a tingly excitement as we hold hands under the table. Staring into each other's eyes, we gush about the future. Oh, how bright it seems.

"Is soccer destined to become America's national pastime?" researcher Daniel Cox writes on HuffPo.

We seem to have fallen hard for this curvy World Cup soccer ball; TV ratings are Amsterdam high, and it's the coolest sport in the land right now.

So forgive me if this is rude to say, especially hours before our biggest World Cup match in years.

But I think our soccer-love is an infatuation.

An idealized crush.

We're smitten.

We love soccer because it's flawless in our eyes, a love-at-first-sight illusion, like the Myth of the Golden Haired Woman. We don't have a relationship with soccer the way we do with football and other American pro sports, which is to say we don't see all its ugly spots. And steroids. And scandals. And violence.

So we romanticize it for what it's not.

It's not the concussions and high cholesterol violence of football.

It's not overly produced the way the NFL can be, like a Michael Bay film in cleats.

It's not sexualized cheerleaders or sexualized beer commercials, or Aaron Hernandez arrests.

If so, that means watching the World Cup is also an act of resistance, pushing back against a one-dimensional version of masculinity that football sometimes promotes.

Watching World Cup soccer is an act of humility, an exercise in interconnectedness. I cheered for the Netherlands team because I once visited there and loved it. My sister cheers for Costa Rica because she has old friends there.

Football is not global in these ways. Even though he owned a baseball team, W. always seemed to have a linebacker's foreign policy: We'll sack 'em. We'll smoke 'em out.

Yes, soccer is a lovely sport. My kids play, and will keep playing. Give us a night out, and we'd choose the Chattanooga Football Club four times out of five over the football Mocs.

But it's not our lovely sport.

It's not America's lovely sport.

I don't mean to sound xenophobic or Ann Coulter-nativist. I think soccer is a more beautiful sport than football, and almost half as good as baseball.

But we haven't made any vows with soccer; we're in no sort of long-term commitment with soccer the way we are with other American sports. We're just dating, and as any married couple will tell you, the real tests and trials that lead to transformation come much later down the road.

Soccer has never defined us in the ways our other sports have, which means we cannot learn about our American selves through it the way we can through baseball (Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente) or basketball (Magic and John Wooden) or football (Peyton and Reggie).

Sports are always a mirror into culture and politics, the place where social revolutions often gain the most traction. Homophobia isn't being dismantled through the work of gay soccer players; it is, however, through the NFL's Michael Sam and the NBA's Jason Collins.

Will we build a relationship with soccer deep enough to let it work on our nation's soul the way our other pro sports can? For soccer is anything but pure.

"Growing up as a soccer fan in England, I've witnessed my fair share of horrors," writes Jonathan Clegg in the Wall Street Journal. "I've seen shocking acts of violence, overheard hundreds of abusive chants and watched Pele retire to sell erectile dysfunction pills."

Know who he's most disgusted with these days?

"Americans," he said. "Your soccer obsessives ... all of this feels like an elaborate affectation."

For many of us, it is.

If we want to be soccer fans, really and truly, then we'll have to get comfortable with all its ugliness as well. Long-term. Till death do us part.

We're going to have to commit.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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ORRMEANSLIGHT said...

+++WE PREACH JESUS CHRIST CRUCIFIED+++

If this one doesn't get you to thinking, nothing will.

Malleus Deum

July 1, 2014 at 12:18 a.m.
conservative said...

I enjoyed playing soccer when I was a kid, it is great exercise.

However, I have no joy in watching it on TV and that is why I don't.

It will never rival traditional American team sports.

I believe it became popular in poor countries because all you need is a ball and dirt.

July 1, 2014 at 7:20 a.m.
mtnreader said...

All you need with baseball is a ball, dirt and a stick. All you need with basketball is a ball, dirt and a tree. So I disagree with conservative as to why soccer is or is not popular. It's not about poverty and access to materials. For that matter, it's easier to grab a stick and make a baseball than it is to conjure up a soccer ball. But I do think soccer is something that has not caught on in America, and I don't know if or when it will on the level of other sports. I do know that it's got a long way to go with me.

July 2, 2014 at 9:01 p.m.
conservative said...

Ann Coulter's new piece on soccer is hilarious.

I didn't know the rules and so I was surprised that the USA team tied a team from a country beginning with a P, LOST to Germany and still advanced!

Huh?

She also called it a girls sport mentioning a player biting another player and asked if hair pulling was next.

July 3, 2014 at 8:11 a.m.
ORRMEANSLIGHT said...

+++WE PREACH JESUS CHRIST CRUCIFIED+++

Sports should equal health. Let's keep the positive view.

Malleus Deum

July 3, 2014 at 11:36 a.m.
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