Reluctant Townie: Confessions of an uninterested soccer fan
Is it OK to stop pretending we care about soccer yet? Did we get it out of our systems? As a collective people of Facebook?
I couldn't do it. Sorry, guys. The world of professional soccer is too vast and multifaceted for me to simply manufacture feelings of intense excitement and murderous loyalty overnight. Too much work. Memorization. Performance.
I don't even know enough about professional soccer to be informed on a generic chit-chat level. Does every country have only one soccer team? Or is it like a supergroup of MVPs? Does the World Cup hold liquid beverages? If so, how many ounces?
If I'm being completely honest, there are probably a few soccer-playing countries that I couldn't point out on a map, let alone tell you who plays for which one and why I should care.
The last time I was emotionally invested in the outcome of a soccer game, I was dressed in shiny blue Umbro shorts and an Urbana Park District jersey. Hypercolor was in. People were doing the Bartman. Mullets were still a source of pride and a reliable indicator of arm-wrestling prowess.
I have moved on in the decades since. I assumed the rest of America had, too.
I'm baffled by the sudden surge of popularity in soccer. It's not like we're at a loss for professional, televised sporting competitions in this country. Broadcast networks give regular airtime to golf, the single most boring sport to watch in all of recorded time and history.
I find it alarming that in the twentysomething years since I was a child, the amount of Saturday morning cartoons decreased to almost nothing, while the amount of viewable golf tournaments increased exponentially, spreading across the Saturday morning schedule like an unkillable, yawn-inducing fungus.
Don't misunderstand me, I golf from time to time. Not very well. Mostly on the Wii.
But I enjoy it. I understand the appeal — the quiet, the relaxation, the boozing.
But when it comes to watching golf on television, when I have the option of doing absolutely anything else with my time, I find it to be only marginally more entertaining than spending my afternoon deep-cleaning the oven.
Soccer is at least more exciting than golf. I'll give it that. But there aren't enough days and hours in the year to watch every type of sport that is available for consumption. There are a lot of distractions out there, you have to pick and choose what you're going to give your attention to.
In America, I thought people chose football, baseball, basketball and hockey (in the winter months when there is no sunshine or happiness). We also have plenty of alternative, second-tier sports to fill in the gaps. NASCAR. Skateboarding. American Ninja Warrior. Personally, I have watched an estimated 40 minutes worth of women's tennis this summer, because it was on and OK, sure, why not.
If I were basing my knowledge of the World Cup off the information I gathered from my social media newsfeeds, I would have concluded that this was the first year it ever took place. At least the first year it took place since people starting broadcasting their banal observations about life on the interwebs. (I propose we consider resetting our calendars to a B.T./A.T. timeline — to better reflect the divide in civilization Before Twitter and After Twitter.)
Until a couple weeks ago, I had no idea that so many of my friends and acquaintances were diehard, ALL CAPS, multiple-exclamation-point-typing soccer fanatics. I came to discover that some of them are practically sports journalists, posting real-time updates of scores and tournament standings day and night. Much like a summer flash flood, this soccer euphoria came out of nowhere and overpowered my newsfeed with a deluge of related media.
Just goes to show that you can never truly know anyone. So many people had been hiding this part of their lives for some reason. Did they worry that they were going to be judged for their passion?
Something about this rash of unexplained soccer enthusiasm rings phony. Where did it come from?
I know people in real life who are legitimate fans of soccer. Most of them have some cultural connection to a country that has enough respect to call soccer "football." (Etymologically speaking, the term "football" makes more sense than soccer, given that soccer is played with feet and American football is played with colliding beer guts. I think we could safely rename American football chunkyball and not compromise the integrity of the sport.)
I think we should leave soccer to the countries who need it, who love it, who have promised to cherish it until death do them part.
How can you know if you're a legitimate soccer fan? Easy. You just have to answer "yes" to at least two of the following questions:
Have you ever participated in a riot at a soccer stadium?
Have you ever flipped over a cop car when your favorite soccer team lost?
Can you explain what "offsides" means without looking it up on Wikipedia?
Everyone else is just chasing a fashion trend.
Ryan Jackson realizes he sounds like a bitter, old sports hipster, but he liked soccer better when it was called Pok-A-Tok, and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.