Many of you know I’ve become a soccer fan in the past couple of years. This recent development is not for lack of exposure – my dad was a career Army officer, and my family did two tours in Germany before I left home, and I spent another five years there with the Army and NATO after I left home – a total of nearly 12 years in a “soccer nation.” In addition, when I was in college in Texas back in the ’60’s, soccer had been introduced and was part of the physical education program – a very strange thing in Texas, where football is the state religion.
Helping my newfound interest along is the fact that one of our dearest friends is a rabid soccer fan from Brasil, who’s taken it upon herself to school me in the finer points of soccer spectatorship. Last year we were all on vacation during the World Cup, and we found ourselves at a local sports bar several times during the week, drinking beer and eating bar food *way* too early in the day! And, although it never came to pass in the World Cup last year, I often wondered what she (a recently naturalized American citizen) would do should Brazil and the US play each other – whom would she root for? Her answer – “I’d cheer for a good game.”
This is being written at the end of July, because as you read this, we’ll be heading home from our annual pilgrimage to the beach, and I have no intention of doing “work” while at the beach! Last week, I saw one of the greatest sporting events I’ve seen in a long time – the Women’s World Cup championship match between the US and Japan. The contrast between the women’s World Cup games and the men’s couldn’t be starker. There were no fake-injury histrionics, no arguments with the officials, no chest-thumping celebrations or exaggerated “signs of the cross” and eyes turned heavenly after goals.
There was simply superb athleticism and sportsmanship. The officiating was decisive and unobtrusive – the refs let the players play. And the players treated each other with dignity and respect, helping each other up after incidental contact. Although the US outplayed Japan (IMHO), Japan prevailed. I was disappointed, of course, but the game was, indeed, “a good game.” No, it was a GREAT game. I enjoyed every minute of it – well except for that “shootout” thing used to determine the winner at the end of a tied game. I’d rather see the teams play overtime periods until one team proved victorious. I’ve seen enough “shootouts” to believe they’re pure luck.
There’s a lot of talk now about the impact this game will have on women’s soccer in the US – and lots of speculation that this game will renew (or heighten) interest in women’s soccer, and perhaps women’s sports generally. I certainly hope so. While it’s certainly a generalization, my limited experience with women’s athletics – from watching pro soccer on TV to watching my daughter play soccer, field hockey, and lacrosse in middle school – has shown me vivid, dramatic examples of that old, often quoted expression, “It’s not whether or not you win or lose, but how you play the game.”
As an aside, a trivia note: that quote isn’t correct and was taken out of context. The actual quote was in a little ditty written by an American sportswriter, Grantland Rice (1880-1954):
For when the One Great Scorer comes,
To write against your name,
He marks – not that you won or lost –
But how you played the Game.
My labored point this month is that in spite of all the negativity we hear these days about sports – e.g., the drugs in cycling, baseball, track and field; the cheating; the payola; management (and player) greed; there are still some bright spots. Maybe if we paid less attention to the sports that feature overpaid, egomaniacal, chemically-enhanced narcissists, we could return to a day of much better competition.
There’s a great opportunity to do just that coming up later this summer. High school cross country season opens in late August. Here’s your chance to see some of the finest athletes in the area competing in one of the purest sports around. No subjective human scoring here – whomever crosses the finish line first wins! For $5, you can spend several hours watching these young adults compete – and support their athletic program at the same time. Come to think of it, why don’t you take the $300 or so you’d blow on a Redskins game, go to a high school cross country meet, and donate the $290 difference to the school’s athletic program? Go, and cheer for “a good game!”