So, I have been experiencing a lot of cognitive and emotional dissonance these days.
I love the beautiful game, it’s complexities of strategy and it’s demand for extraordinary skill, finesse, and athletic patience. I hate that people like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter trash soccer as a leftist activity. I love that so many more Americans have been swept up in the drama of the World Cup. I hate that so many players seem to be members of a theatrical guild, playing only for the referee’s whistle rather than seeking to score out right and win on merit rather than on set pieces (skillful execution of such plays notwithstanding).
But this last thought is why I think soccer’s time has not come yet for America. We Americans have little patience for the cheap victory (or at least we should have!) when it comes to sport. I believe that for the game to achieve popular acceptance in our country, world soccer (think FIFA) will need to get control of fouls. Players from other countries (and too often our own as well) seem to have no sense of pride or self-respect. Knowing there are a dozen camera angles at ultra-slow motion does not deter them from launching their bodies toward to ground followed by writhing painful images – even though every camera angle shows that they only felt an arm slightly grazing against their back, or that another soccer boot nicked theirs ever so slightly.
Can seemingly insignificant contact “hurt”? My son, Eli, assures me – and I thus believe – that it can. But does it create agonizing pain every time? I think not. Games have turned on a referee’s biting on such a display and awarding a free kick that results in a deciding score. But when even the commentators agree a “foul” was manifestly wrong and unjust, . . . well, Americans tend to turn the channel or say, “What’s that about?”
How much better to play through the contact, win the ball, stay in the game and seek to score? But too often players take themselves out of the play, going to the ground in hopes the official will award the free kick. Then there are the times when things go terribly wrong. When Colombian player Zuniga went high and kneed Brazilian star Neymar in the back, Neymar ended up with a cracked vertebrae. But the cracked vertebrae is so low, some think that the knee did not create the injury. Rather, Neymar arched his back and sailed to the ground onto his hip which may have contributed to the severity of the injury. All agree that it is grievous and Neymar’s loss is near fatal to Brazil’s chances. But it seems a stretch to think Zuniga meant to hurt the other player.
But I ramble. My point is simple. When players embellish, it taints the sport. Interestingly, I think this began to happen more in professional basketball when foreign players began to “embellish” there as well. And Americans dislike it. That’s all.