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Faux Outrage

Literally the most important blog in the universe since 2010.

Last Thursday, The Powers That Be — through a man really actually truthfully honestly named Sepp Blatter — announced that the United States will not be hosting the World Cup in 2022 (assuming, of course, the world does not end in 2012).

Instead, the games have been awarded to Qatar, a country that the average American cannot…

(a) spell (no “u”)
(b) pronounce (somewhere between “cutter” and “gutter”)
(c) locate on a map (east of Saudi Arabia, west of Iran, north of the UAE)
(d) use in a game of Scrabble, unfortunately (proper noun)

If you interview an average American citizen and ask them to rank their level of disappointment when hearing this news, they will probably grind their teeth, clear their throat and eventually burp out a hearty, “World Cup of what exactly?”

(And then, if stereotypes of Americans are to be believed, they will ferociously snap the notebook from your hand, slather it in taco-flavored ketchup (dibs on this idea, btw), and hyperventilatingly gulp it down like an expecting baby chickadee before stabbing you in the leg with an American flag.)

The World Cup of Soccer, by the way.

Wikipedia explains to us that Soccer is “played between two teams of eleven players with a spherical ball.” This is the sport that has rejected us.

We have been rejected by soccer.

And yet, it is difficult — though of course not impossible (See: Seattle) — to find sports fans in this country who give a hoot, let alone give a full-fledged vuvuzela. I’m talking about a “Write An Article With The Headline FIFA are rotten to the core! I feel like a shower after this crawling, venal game” level of caring that our friends in the United Kingdom are so effortlessly able to embrace.

On this side of The Pond, we have the New York Times — in its predictably understated way — yawning out this headline: U.S. Should Know There’s No Sulking in Soccer. But do we really know that about soccer? Do we really know anything at all about soccer? Should we ever even print “United States” and “should know” and “soccer” in the same rhetorical statement (besides this one)?

And to the extent that we do actually consider the prevalence of sulking in the world’s most popular sport (besides corruption), wouldn’t a supermajority of casual soccer-viewing American fans declare with calm confidence that if there is one thing that we know for certain about the sport with fewer goals than a high school methamphetamine addict, it is that sulking, whining and general cry-babyishness are the three food groups of communication on the soccer field — excuse me — football pitch (which is, by the way, a term composed words strongly associated in the United States with sports wholly unrelated to soccer: American football and baseball, respectively)?

And yet, there is a cycle in the American media that repeats itself every few years. Like clockwork, as we approach an internationally-relevant soccer event like the World Cup or the Olympics, newspapers, magazines, and televised editorialists coast-to-coast all pose the same question in unison:

“Are Americans About To Embrace Soccer?”

It is with great regret that I demand we stop asking this question.

Why?

Because the answer is “No” no matter how many times the question is (or will be) asked.

And until we accept soccer’s already-sealed fate, our domestic sports (and to some extent, national) media will continue taking on the personae of sleep-deprived kids in the back seat of their parents’ Ford Taurus en route to Universal Studios longingly pleading, “Are We There Yet?” because they know at some point the answer will be “Yes, we are there! Yes, Americans have once and for all embraced the world’s game!”

But we are not there yet. We will never be there.

On a personal note, I quite like the sport. Some of my earliest and most prominent memories take place on the grass-dirt-pothole fields a short bike ride from my childhood home. I played through sophomore year of high school (I was a striker/winger), until my being reasonably fast and willing to slide-tackle anyone (for any reason) no longer sufficiently masked my complete inability to strike the ball with my left foot (or with any accuracy with my right).

The fact is, my positive relationship with soccer isn’t that much different than the millions of folks in America who are in a prime position to consume and care about the sport — if they were so inclined. We all played it when we were kids. We all generally understand the rules (ball in goal, hands to self). But we all also tend to find ourselves either leaving the sporting life behind, or primarily focus our athletic energies on one or more of the major domestic sports: football, baseball, basketball, and Justin Bieber.

Which is, sadly, why the word reject — one of the most simple yet harsh words available in the English language — is the fairest and most descriptive of our relationship with the game that Israelis and Palestinians have no problem agreeing on. We have experienced soccer, we have experienced alternatives to it, and we have chosen those other things.

Our relationship with soccer can be differentiated from a sports like cricket, which has not been “rejected” in the same way. Yes, we all assume that it is terribly boring and not worth our time (that we could spend eating nachos), but when confronted about our distaste, we ultimately end up hiding behind our ignorance of wickets and beamers and bouncers. Therefore, to say that we have “rejected” cricket seems a bit strong.

We’ve ignored cricket, but we certainly haven’t rejected it.

We have rejected soccer, though.

Sorry, soccer.

But here’s the thing: It’s okay.

It’s okay that Americans will not ever entirely embrace the sport with the same passion of our neighbors to the north, south, east, and west.

It’s okay that the United States will never be overrun by scarf-wearing hooligans because it’s ultimately not very important, especially for those of us who are able appreciate the grace and beauty of a well-struck header off a corner kick. The inherent value of the game is unchanging, even in the face of a skeptical public. Viewing our culture’s rejection of fútbol as some kind of fundamental social or intellectual failing, or as having any sort of deeper meaning, is to create a tension where there is none.

It’s okay that. on the whole, Americans are more likely to associate the term “yellow card” with that time they got drunk and dropped their Visa in the toilet.

It’s okay that as a society, we stand atop our soap box pooh-poohing the flopping, shin-grabbing and all-around fakery that goes on in the Premier League and embrace “King of Flops” Vlade Divac.

We have been rejected by soccer, and soccer has been rejected by us.

And that is okay.

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