Cook: You had me at nil

Cook: You had me at nil

July 1st, 2014 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

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.

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

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.