Wednesday, June 23, 2010

World Cup Mentality & My Parochialism

I did not have to check the news to know that Argentina won their World Cup game yesterday. The fireworks blasting in the streets, the horns beeping, and the dogs howling told me!  I'm delighted, really. Good news is so rare here!
When the competition is narrowed, I'll go find a café and watch some games. . . and the fans. What can I say? I am a tennis and baseball fan. The passion for soccer mystifies me. My dear Roberto is fond of reminding me that it is the most international sport. Could be. But I just can't focus on that green expanse with the dots of players running helter skelter for 90 minutes. Apparently I am not the only parochial U.S. person to admit to this.

Two New York Times columnists, Gail Collins and David Brooks were discussing this very topic last week. Brooks's comments so delighted me that I want to share them here, emphasis mine. (For the full column,
 click here. ) And yes, I and am ready for the criticism & comments! David Brooks:

The World Cup calls this parochialism to mind because soccer is not just a sport, it is an entire mentality. We in this country prefer pastimes that are rational and quantifiable. Football plays can be drawn up in a playbook and baseball lends itself to statistical analysis.  Americans prefer pastimes that are rational; the rest of the world rewards resilience and neuroticism.
But the rest of the world follows a sport that rewards resilience and neuroticism. Soccer is a sport perfectly designed to reinforce a tragic view of the universe, because basically it is a long series of frustrations leading up to near certain heartbreak.

The author Nick Hornby once had the brains to turn around while at an Arsenal match to watch the faces of the fans instead of the game. He observed that over the course of 15 minutes, the fans reflected frustration, rage, bitterness, despair, false hopes and discouragement. That's because the players are perpetually pushing the ball forward, and it often looks like something is about to happen, but in reality it almost never does.
The goals are never scored.

Soccer is a sport that rewards neurotic creativity. Many of the greatest players have been marginally insane. They see a situation unfold before them and they respond in unpredictable ways, not straightforward ones. Their neurons are just a bit off. I guess you could say that about some of their fans, too.

But it's also a game that teaches you that life is unfair. Because goals are so scarce, it is possible for a team to be outplayed for 89 minutes and yet still score one fluke goal and win the game. Superior performance often does not translate into victory.

And may the best team win! (That would be the Argentine team, of course.)

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