There is a beauty to soccer that is in the eyes of the beholder. But to the casual observer the tactics are invisible. The 14 basic rules are enforced with a level of discretion that causes frequent controversies and dramas. This is quite different from our nation's sports which are more scientifically bracketed by cameras, replays, post play call adjustments and clocks that force the fortunes of outcomes on either side of mere seconds. There are formations of players to fill the empty spaces of a vast field which only soccer enthusiasts and fans know about. And all of the variations of formations, set pieces and tactical plays conspire as artistic expressions of coaches and star players who subscribe to notions of dominance against their foes . .
And then of course there is the athleticism. Our Maker endowed us with hands with thumbs and this physical configuration is the single most defining element that vastly separates us from other species. But without the use of such appendages in this sport the unnatural activity of moving a small sphere with feet and balance is a resounding and significant human achievement.
There are often heart stopping actions where the outcome of a match can be lost on the briefest lack of concentration by a defender. Sometimes a battle is settled suddenly by a perfect kick that curls a ball in a glorious subscription to the laws of physics seconds before it strikes the back of a net. And in tournament play scores are sometimes ultimately settled in a shoot out when the match is scoreless or tied, an exhaustive overtime period ensues and after all players are physically and emotionally spent.
There is a rhythm to soccer and when, every four years, millions of people are engaged in following the World Cup such as the one occurring now in Brazil the sport transforms into a public spectacle where athleticism is blended with pageantry and unabashed nationalism.
It is a beautiful game because it is dramatic and unique in sport which brings people together of varying heritages, national backgrounds and religious believes on a field of play instead of in an arena of conflict.
But in this mix of collective celebration the specter of bigotry is never too distant. Racial differences have punctuated many matches throughout the world with sad episodes of excesses in fan violence. And now even in our own nation we see bigotry exposed through the writings of conservative writer and columnist Ann Coulter.
Coulter has a following among so-called right-wing conservatives and she injected a venomous treatise on June 25 onto the public airways that had a numbered listing of grievances against the sport that found a certain appeal. The rant insulted soccer moms and enthusiasts in varying degrees. The sport was reduced to an uninspiring endeavor that is “foreign”, without heroes and with silly rules. But what Coulter did best of all was to reveal a seething hatred for people who did not fit her notion of what Americans should be.
I have heard similar rants against the sport and in most cases there was a parallel motive to express displeasure with the people who watched the sport; immigrants, non-citizens and even Americans who were not ashamed to show case their heritage.
Ann Coulter and her followers will never understand the sport because they are not watching it. They instead are watching the people watching it and they are threatened by what they see. They believe that a “moral decay” and “liberal agenda” are symptoms of a deteriorating America best exemplified by the sport. Her final hatred-filled statement reveals this best ; “ …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.”
In the end, Ann Coulter is simply a conduit of a hard reality in our nation where despite progress made in civil rights and the eradication of institutionalized prejudice, bigotry retains its hold on the human psyche.
The best evidence of this was that after posting her column on line on June 25th the number of “likes” was accelerating towards 6 thousand just a mere 48 hours later.