As soccer lovers and bandwagon hoppers the world over wait to watch the semifinal games of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, a few puerile pundits have transformed it into their own Hyde Park in which to set up a soapbox and spew pompous oratorical diarrhea. Ann Coulter’s adolescent attacks on soccer are easy enough to dismiss as the usual ranting and raving of an irrelevant demagogue, an attempt to politicize sport for personal profit and blow some last bombast into a deflating brand of irreverence. We may read her, wish she was being pleasantly satirical rather than gleefully inane, and turn away laughing with distaste.
It is, however, difficult to dismiss such a fine publication as National Review. There a piece equates the supposedly liberal politics of the American soccer fan base with the moral value of the sport itself. It hinges on the argument, considered indisputable by the author, that soccer is uninteresting. This calls to mind the G. K. Chesterton quote, “There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person.” I’ll risk accusations of relativism and allow personal taste to dictate that soccer, to some people at least, is boring.
The assertion by Bernard Goldberg that, “soccer has already taught me that smug, liberal elites are the single biggest reason I have no use for soccer” is a clever little tautology that means nothing much more than liberals are bad and bad liberals like soccer so soccer is liberal and bad. It eschews a balanced examination of soccer as sport and sport as a morally complex issue—an activity thankfully returning en vogue from a hiatus after the Victorians and Teddy Roosevelt—for the far more prevalent pastime of loud intellectual silence.
Deafening daftness will never replace real debate, no matter how often it displaces it. If we worry that the necessity of passing to succeed in soccer begins the slippery slope toward socialism, God save the red-blooded American who teaches his son to share. If it is those lousy liberals who like soccer, and that makes soccer a lousy liberal sport, are we going to stop and think about what it says about conservative fans of football and all the human violence that entails, or the more gladiatorial UFC?
America’s growing appreciation for soccer says little more about the state of our country’s moral decay than America’s obsession with every other sport. It may bother some that the people of other countries love soccer, but the bothered seem motivated by a strange kind of negative patriotism: navel gazing and xenophobia leading to declarations of what America isn’t rather than is. Soccer is a sport, and that carries moral weight. Let’s talk about that rather than splutter and fume from atop empty crates at empty crowds.