2014 World Cup exposes soccer haters for what they really are

Mike Wise
Columnist June 28

Every four years, America’s “Get Off My Lawn” media personalities lambaste the world’s most popular sport because it’s not our most popular sport. Professional jingoist Ann Coulter went one step further in a Thursday column by writing, “Any growing interest in soccer can only be a sign of the nation’s moral decay.”

Then she turned the xenophobic dial to 11: “If more ‘Americans’ are watching soccer today, it’s only because of the demographic switch effected by Teddy Kennedy’s 1965 immigration law. I promise you: No American whose great-grandfather was born here is watching soccer. One can only hope that, in addition to learning English, these new Americans will drop their soccer fetish with time.”

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. View Archive

And replace it with what, hate-mongering?

It takes a special kind of logic to argue that rooting for the United States against international competition is, in actuality, being exceptionally un-American.

Coulter’s warped world view aside, the real, though diminishing, opposition to futbol in this country is that it isn’t football but has the audacity to sound like it. For Chinstrap Nation, it’s not enough to exhibit uncommon stamina or even to bite as viciously as Conrad Dobler. No, to be a truly admirable sport, you have to risk spinal injury every time you take the field, like the players in Roger Goodell’s league.

The second week of the World Cup saw fans expressing elation and relief in Athens, Los Angeles and Lyon, as wins and ties allowed teams to advance to the round of 16. (Divya Jeswani Verma/The Washington Post)

Luckily, these bang-up television ratings leading to the World Cup knockout stage have changed hearts and minds. Whether it has a bit to do with the U.S. team advancing, a favorable time zone for broadcasting or superior network pageantry is immaterial. We are now contemporary and worldly enough as a nation to realize that soccer is only going to grow in popularity here — as long as the urban hipster in the cubicle next to you has spent this week’s salary on an Arsenal or Real Madrid jersey.

Less and less we are going ugly-’Merican on soccer. Oh, John Feinstein contends no one will watch when the U.S. team is knocked out. But next to stick-and-ball Annie, that’s tame. I like to think we are now deeper, more internationally sophisticated, that even if we start watching because of the cool samba-thumping cartoon opening to each match — easily the best cross-promotion between ESPN and Disney animators — we do care.

While we wonder how patriotic other nations truly are if they don’t forcefully interject an “O!” during the Ecuadorian or Algerian national anthem, we can appreciate that the players actually know the words.

Mostly, we like the sound of English announcers when they perfectly intone, “The equalizah!” or “lovely ball” or “a golden chance.” Heck, Ian Darke and Adrian Healey are delighting American soccer fans by just saying “brilliant” six times a match.

This is called consumer profiling, and at the World Cup it has meant importing the game announcers, in-studio analysts and even our coach (a common World Cup practice) — for a viewing audience that desperately wants to know more than we actually do about the beautiful game. If you are not an Englishman, Scot or Welshman, you are basically the guy calling games in the Spanish league trying to take Marv Albert’s job.

Which is why I am worried for my friend Gus Johnson, who Fox Sports has taken the courageous step of making its No. 1 play-by-play guy for the 2018 World Cup. I don’t know if “HA-HAAA” or “RISE AND FIRE, YOUNG MAN!” is going to fly, not to mention yelling throatily, “Boubacar Barry!” like some random college player now suiting up for Al’s Automotive.

Every time I see Mike Tirico beside fresh Brazilian fruit now, he’s talking to some guy who got lost on his way to the Das Erste television studio.

This video will prepare you for the U.S. national team's next World Cup game, which is against Belgium. You'll sound like an expert to your friends and co-workers. (Tom LeGro/The Washington Post)

I’m sure the real-’Merican crowd will use this to further illustrate how far have we really come as a futbol-loving country if we have to rely on non-Americans to continue teaching and explaining the game to us at the highest levels.

With tighter immigration laws, stick-and-ball Annie will argue, we will have just Clint Dempsey and a few minivans full of kids with cleats and shinguards left.

And, as usual, the outdated ugly Americans will be rendered voiceless by a nation who thinks that actually learning about something the rest of the world does better is the obvious gradual step toward one day becoming the best at it.

If it doesn’t happen soon enough, we can always deport the non-believers, the folks who will always be wedded to baseball, apple pie and insufferable xenophobes such as Ann Coulter. Get off my pitch, lady.

For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.

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