• My latest freelancing assignment has begun, and it consists of a weekly television appearance between now and early July to discuss the World Cup.
• The World Cup brings out conflicted emotions, to say the least, among the American sports public and punditry, especially among those fans, journalists, writers and talk show hosts who can’t stand soccer or who think their countrymen who like the game are either delusional or fraudulent.
So when a writer I admire penned this yesterday — an attempt at deconstructing the psychology of American soccer fans, especially those who came to it as adults, via marketing and television — I was troubled by some of the assumptions and the desire to paint them as monolithic:
“There was a lot of high-minded fake smuggery after the 1994 World Cup here in the States, and I took it all back then as classic American us-vs.themism. I also used to think that this behavior was a function of guilt, some hyper-liberal yearning to reparate to the world for 80-plus years of sporting ignorance. But I’ve come to the conclusion that this has nothing to do with sports at all, that it’s more a need to take a chair at the table of a misunderstood minority. It’s a sort of social disease, a benign version of ‘the clap,’ as in, the desire to be part of shared applause.”
The history of soccer in America is checkered; a great chance was missed around the time of the first World Cup to make the sport more mainstream but it’s been a struggle to catch up ever since. The American soccer fans I know the best — not just those who show up at the pubs for the World Cup — simply like the game, and it’s not any more complicated than that. They immerse themselves in it worldwide and year-round, every year, and not just every four years. Many of them still follow American sports and teams just as avidly.
To suggest that one must have a reverence in something “organically” — whatever that means — is to close off the possibility of developing acquired tastes and new interests as life proceeds.
If that makes me an American soccer snob then fine. I’d rather be labeled that way than possess a puritanical insistence on authenticity so earnest and absolute that it risks becoming a contrivance itself.