I’ve reverted to American terminology for this short post, for if I called it “Why Americans don’t really like football,” it would be confusing and, in the American vernacular, deeply wrong.
America is in the throes of a World Cup craze: every time the U.S. plays, people in the big cities forgather in bars, or in city parks with huge screens, and cheer on “Team USA.” Often their faces are painted red, white, and blue, and they wear the national colors. That’s what they do in other countries, who also cheer on their teams. What’s so bad about that?
The bad thing is that many of these Americans, so it seems, care only about the USA winning an international competition, and couldn’t care less about the fact that this competition occurs once every four years, giving us the chance to see the world’s greatest national teams—and greatest players.
Evidence: I watch the NBC News every night (that and “60 Minutes” are pretty much the only television I watch), and lately I hope to see the World Cup highlights and scores. (I still haven’t looked up who won the Greece/Costa Rica game.) Tonight there was a substantial segment of the news devoted to the USA team, showing its practices, its fans (many of whom claim that we’ll “go all the way”), interviews with the coach, and previews of the game with Belgium on Tuesday.
Did they give the results of the two games played today? Nope. They didn’t involve the U.S., so who cares? Jebus!
Every reader who is a real soccer fan here knows that I love the game but don’t know much about it. I plan to learn, but it’s not easy when the games you watch have Spanish commentary (I speak German and some French, but that’s no help). But I still see soccer as the perfect sport for fans. It’s fast-paced, you know when the game will end, and there are no annoying commercial breaks except at halftime. The athleticism is unparalleled, and a good goal is a thing of beauty, for, unlike a home run, it involves a complicated team choreography, like a dance.
Baseball and American football have their merits, of course, but they’re too damn slow (the baseball game I went to yesterday lasted 2.5 hours, and that was fast!). Football is brutal, and for some reason I just can’t get interested in basketball. And the World Cup, unlike the Superbowl or so-called “World” Series, is truly international. I love to see the strange names on the jerseys, and learn about the players, their peccadillos (like biting), and their performance on their regular teams.
One would think that many Americans share this feeling, and I hope they do. But watching Americans cheer for our national team, I think that foreigners’ feeling that we’re poised to join the soccer-loving countries of the world is premature. Yes, the kids play while Mom and Dad watch patiently from the sidelines, but by the time you get to the high school and college level, nobody cares. Who knows how Harvard’s soccer team does?
Maybe someday we’ll be as soccer-crazy as Brazil, France, or England, and that day can’t come too soon for me. But I wish we’d become a little less chauvinistic and a little more interested in how the rest of the world is doing. And I wish they’d report the damn scores on the national news. It takes all of 30 seconds to say that the Dutch beat Mexico 2-1 and Costa Rica beat Greece 5-3 in penalty kicks after a 1-1 tie in regular time and overtime (yes, I just looked up the scores). Instead, they had a four-minute report on Team USA, soon to be eliminated. And you can bet that the omission of the two games’ scores was calculated. After all, they had to do an important segment on the manufacture of cast iron skillets.