From the Babe’s Mouth
by
Megan Rapinoe celebrates after scoring the first goal of the FIFA Women’s World Cup championship match last week. Image: Richard Heathcote/Getty

The U.S. Women’s Soccer team came home with the trophy, but, of course, that isn’t the end of it. Winning, it seems, is not enough. The contemporary script called for some politics and protests over injustice and unequal treatment, without which it seems no story is complete these days. We live in a time when even people who live a dream life of celebrity and money are seething with grievances. You have to wonder why. They do not toil in an office or on a factory floor. They get paid to do what kids all over the world do, whenever they get the chance, just for the sheer fun of doing it.

And yet …

It is summer and, not being a fan of soccer, I missed all of the games in which the American women triumphed. Life is short and there are better things to occupy one’s time. Kids, for instance, and dogs.

Still, the anger of some of the women on the U.S. team was unavoidable. In the age of the internet, just about everything is unavoidable. And then, rage and cries of injustice, sexism, racism, and more play well on the internet. Boot up the computer, go to Twitter, and settle in for your fix of venom and hate.

The star of the American team has made it defiantly plain that she will not be going to the White House to be congratulated and honored by the president and to shake his hand. And, of course, things just won’t be the same now.

Or maybe Randall Jarrell had it right in his poem “Say Goodbye to Big Daddy”:

The world won’t be the same without Big Daddy.

Or else it will be.

 Nor will the world be much changed just because the American women won and strutted their defiance of Trump and … whatever. In spite of all the money and the media attention, we are talking about a game here. When Duane Thomas was asked shortly before a Super Bowl several years ago how it felt to be playing in the “ultimate game,” he answered, “If it’s the ultimate game, why are they going to play it again next year?”

One of the seductions of sports is their larger irrelevance. Sure, there is some tall money involved, but still, when the game is over, it’s over. If the American women had lost, what would be different today? Would the killing in, say, Afghanistan suddenly cease?

There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, of a coach (perhaps John McKay) giving a speech to his team before a big game: “Men, just remember, no matter what happens out there today, there are going to be about a billion people in China who won’t give a damn.”

It’s a game.

Trump and the White House are not.

In 1930, after he had signed for two years at a salary of $160,000, someone told Babe Ruth that he was being paid more than the President of the United States, Herbert Hoover.

“Why not?” Ruth said. “I had a better year than he did.”

Ruth didn’t presume to offer solutions for ending the Great Depression. He just hit the ball over the wall, to the delight of fans for whom baseball provided moments of relief from the unrelenting gloom of those times.

It might not be a bad thing if the next president erected a metaphorical wall between the worlds of sports and politics. No White House visits for the winners of the Super Bowl, the World Series, or the Daytona 500. No golf with the winner of the Masters.

Better to watch a game where you didn’t know which team the president had picked. And the game might be better if the players weren’t distracted by thoughts of politics. Back when the Iran Contra scandal was running at its hottest, Redskins coach Joe Gibbs was asked a question about Oliver North.

“Who is he?,” Gibbs replied.

He had to be the only person in all of Washington who didn’t know. But then, he had more important things on his mind — such as beating the Cowboys, Eagles, and Giants on the way to the Super Bowl.

The women from the American soccer team should absolutely decline an invitation to the White House. And the White House should absolutely not offer one. Politics has infected too much of American life. The games need to be immunized, and the politics need to be quarantined. Neither does the other any good.

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