“At least,” my daughter tells me, “We learn about countries we’d never hear about otherwise.” This on the second day of summer vacation and about 15 minutes after a tedious lecture on the short, sad history of Yugoslavia. We’re watching the USA get beat by Slovenia in World Cup action while the angry bees in the stands sound as if they approve. This is how we bond as a family, learn about the world, and generally pass the time these days – sports.
A century ago there wasn’t this much sport in our lives. Mass media helped to create our love of sports, certainly, but I think there was something else got it all started. People used to have physical work, lives were full of enough drama as it was. Nations didn’t play each other in football, they simply went to war. There were no modern Olympics before 1896, and there was no World Cup before 1930.
If you think about all this sport as the natural result of everyone becoming a bit more civilized and sedentary it seems like a good thing. We get to see something of people all over the world. The stakes are just high enough to be exciting but not so high that they become deadly (except for Andres Escobar).
The problem has become that there are just too many games to learn about. Since I live 3 blocks from the home of the Minnesota Wild of the NHL, I had to learn about hockey. To me it was a fast kind of soccer on ice. That’s the opposite direction for most people who are only now learning about soccer. The World Cup is, at least, on my turf.
I remember as a kid kicking a ball between friends when a group of Colombians came up and told us that Americanos just don’t know futbol. It was a fun way to instigate a pickup game, and we went at it with all the fervor of national pride. In just a few minutes, we showed those Colombians – Americans really don’t know soccer. Hoo-boy.
That’s what all this sport really is about – a social experience. It brings people together in strange ways that they might not otherwise and gets them to think about things they might not on an ordinary day. Ideally it’s about some decent exercise, too, but not at 9:00 in the morning in a sports bar. This is quality time with my daughter at the start of a summer and that’s more than good enough.
The USA is now making a little bit of a comeback against a nation that took a lot of effort to place and describe. But if there’s one thing that I think of as a core USofA value, it’s cheering for the underdog. Slovenia? Hey, if this is their day and their game, I’m happy to be behind them, not that it really matters. If they don’t make it I’d like to have Paraguay in the final, just because it’s fun to say Paraguay.
Just so Argentina doesn’t go all the way. I don’t want to have to explain Diego Maradona. Hand to God, I don’t.