Sunday, June 24, 2012

I Wish I Liked Soccer....

With the European Cup well underway, I am reminded again—I wish I liked watching or playing soccer. It seems I am unlike other sports fans worldwide.  Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl reports, “Even mainstream US sports fan are noticing the fervent followings at Euro 2012.  Through eight games, ESPN which is broadcasting every match live, was averaging 1.26 million English-language viewers, up 183% from Euro 2008.” 183%!  Spontaneous songs and chants, spirited, colorful nationalism on display at the Euro and World Cups are but a few reasons—athletic feats aside—that any sports fan can and should be drawn to this international game.  So what gives? Honestly, I don’t know.

I wish I liked soccer in the way I wish I liked seafood or the music of Bob Dylan.  Seafood is so good for you.  Low in calories, high in protein, it is a nutrient dense food.  It is loaded with Omega-3 fatty acids for brain function.  Insult to injury, I have lived in places with access to fresh fish: Baton Rouge, Washington DC (with its Maryland crab) and San Francisco.  Seafood can be social, especially for Catholics.  From Crab Feeds to Fish Frys, what parish or Catholic school hasn’t hosted a fishy fundraiser? And in south Louisiana, the crawfish boil is a regular excuse for families and friends to come together.
The music of Bob Dylan has directly and indirectly shaped my entire life. People I love and respect are tremendously devoted to the musical genius. Most Americans cite him as the real voice of this country, long before Bruce Springsteen unofficially took the honor! In fact, Dylan was recently awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom the nation’s highest civilian honor, for having made “especially meritorious contributions to cultural endeavors of this country.” But his voice and the rhythm his music….I can’t even put it into writing.  My Uncle Mark once told me I was treading on sacred ground….
Soccer is no different.  Indirectly, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the way the soccer field can be sacred ground as he sent a message to athletes, fans and tournament organizers in the European Cup soccer tournament. He said 
Team sports such as soccer can educate participants and spectators in important values, including self-sacrifice and respect for one’s adversaries. Group sporting events, he said, are “an important school for educating one in the meaning of respect for others – including the opposing team– the spirit of personal sacrifice for the good of the whole group,” and in the importance of recognizing the talents and skills of each person on a team. 
In other words, the pope said, team sports help people “overcome the logic of individualism and selfishness, which often characterize human relations, in order to make room for the logic of brotherhood and love, the only things that can lead to promoting the common good on every level.”
Like seafood, soccer is good for you! It is physically and mentally demanding. Soccer requires critical thinking on behalf of the athlete and teammates (brain power!).  I think soccer players are some of the greatest athletes in the world.  My father, who coached my brother’s soccer team for 5 years, conceded they ARE the best athletes—bar none.

I grew up in an area where soccer programs were well developed for boys and girls of all ages.  It is social and I love it for the fact that its social boundaries are lacking.  I have played on fields in El Salvador with kids who had no shoes, in Mexico with the children of migrant farm workers and in East LA with former gang members.  Race, age, gender or class and even language prevented no one from playing.

Like Dylan’s music, people I love and respect revere the game.  Some coach their child’s team, some are still playing (and can’t turn off the competitive gene—you know who you are) and others travel to watch games—from the pub, to the Italian Athletic Club to the host site of the World Cup.

I know the merits and understand their mass appeal of soccer, seafood and Dylan.  I hope the remainder of the Euro Cup is comprised of exciting games and athletic feats.  I will however order something else or turn down the volume. I wish it were different...

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1 comment:

  1. I thought you might like this recent piece: