Every four years, I find myself predictably caught up in the World Cup, only to lose interest in the game after it’s all through. How can an American without a satellite dish really keep up with an international sport like soccer, with multiple leagues to watch spread across several continents? With the Internet, of course, but it doesn’t quite feel the same as being able to watch regular games (er, matches) on television, which is the only secondhand way of experiencing sports that I’m used to. I think I understand much more than the average American does about the European leagues, but it still seems like more work than I’m ready to put in. As it is, I’m a pretty casual fan of baseball and basketball, an extremely casual (and extremely recent) hockey follower by circumstance — I probably would have grown up as a Blackhawks kid if only they’d had an owner who didn’t outright despise the fans — and have more or less sworn off any future interest in American football. In the case of that latter case of self-denial, has that ever spared me from a lot of stress that I’ve found myself more than content to do without.
Despite my halfhearted commitment to keeping up with them, I really do love sports, although for completely different reasons than I did when I was young. I’m too old to idolize professional athletes, and seriously doubt that I’ll buy another personalized jersey or overpriced pack of cards ever again. I can’t stand the celebrity culture of sports and how the media continually tarnish what should be one of the last innocent and pure activities in our society with it. No, growing up has pretty much purged every interest I once had in the cult of sport out of my body, even as it’s steadily grown into a viable armchair lifestyle for millions thanks to behemothian media giants like ESPN. I have no use for the babble that makes up this world or the personalities that have made their millions contributing to it.
But as I’ve struggled on my own to make my way in the world, I’ve grown to really appreciate the value of an individual’s hard work, especially when it’s in the service of a truly difficult and specific goal. When I see a truly great play in any sport, I’m more appreciative than ever of the incredible physical efforts, complex split-second calculations. and total mental focus it required, all under the sort of pressure that I’ve rarely had to experience in my easygoing life. In short, it’s an everyday chance to witness people living up to their full potential. Or (perhaps even more admirably) repeatedly failing to do so, only to get up and try time and time again until they finally succeed. This is why I love the World Cup, which gives me a chance to watch a sport that I reasonably understand (but haven’t watched enough of to grow truly jaded of) and which offers no shortage of chances for me to witness such displays of courage and extra effort.
I watched all of the United States’ match against Algeria (in Spanish on Univision!), both teams’ final match of the group and a must-win for the US to advance. I was glued to the screen from the first half on, and as the second half wound to a close with both teams still scoreless, I couldn’t bring myself to give up despite the extremely unlikely chances that the US would have the time to mount a strong, last-minute attack. At the end of 90 minutes, with only three (four?) minutes of stoppage time left, their fate seemed sealed, even moreso as Algeria began the extra time with a strong scoring chance of their own. What happened in the next minute was only possible because every member on the American squad remained totally focused on their goal and unwilling to let the odds against them deter them from punching through and pulling off one of most memorable victories in our country’s history to date. Sports may be a time-wasting diversion 99% of the time, but when they let us witness such a rare display of perseverance in the face of adversity and the value of a spirited second-effort, they’re as indispensable to our culture as music, art, or any of the forms of expression that we usually turn to for inspiration.
Unfortunately, our good fortunes weren’t to last, being knocked out by Ghana last week. With England out as well I’m left with Japan as the last team I could find any personal stake in rooting for. That is, until I saw the picture above. Is Asuka in a kit blowing a vuvuzela reason enough to root for Germany?
Um, why not?