Well, after a long time not bothering the web with my often inane musings on the social impact of our current sporting culture I have decided to add a sports section to this website. I have to admit that some of my motivation is just another avenue to keep my fingers hitting keys in the hope that they might stumble upon something worth being written, or worth being read. In a perfect world, I might discover something that was both. It would be dishonest to claim that as the entire reason, though.
The reality is that I love sports. In fact, I have a high degree of affection for quite a few athletic competitions, but there is something about the Sport, team versions in particular, that grips me in the kind of emotional catharsis that I can no longer access in a religious vein. While I have long thought that athletic team culture might grow into the heir for our collapsed religious meta-narrative, I would like to hold most of those thoughts for a later date, because at the moment the entirety of my intellectual and emotional resources are allotted to this delightful football tournament in Brazil.
With all the apologies due Ann Coulter (by which, of course, I mean none at all), when I say football here, I mean the game which is defined by the manipulation of a ball with a foot, as opposed to the game so named because the ball is shaped like a foot. I do not denigrate the American game, which I enjoy with all its force and pace. Some people can appreciate different things for different reasons. I know a great many people who manage to love more than a single sport. Some of them even love sports from other countries, despite having ancestral roots to this land that precede the Mayflower.
Instead, I want to talk about the weird quantum emotional state of being a sports enthusiast. This is about learning to love and hate something at the same time, for the exact same reason. Distinct from the concept of sports hate, the transforming of peccadillos into insidious villainy for reasons of athletic allegiance , this quantum emotional state is more like loving and hating Michael Jordan because of those last two sub-Wizardly seasons. You loved him because he had to play, and you hated him because he had to play.
Sports serves as a narrative carrier. The players and their teams, carrying their separate and shared histories through our lives, allowing us to watch the weight of that history leveraged in real-time contests. Those last few seasons of Jordan only have significance because before them he had been Jordan. This quantum emotional state is about when those different narratives get tangled.
This is about being a Liverpool fan, watching Steven Gerrard rise for a header that he has won a million times, seeing him weighed down by the expectations of an entire generation, holding the Captain a half-inch short and a half-inch not-short-enough, the ball skipping off the back of his head into the path of...
This is about watching one of the more exciting tournaments I can remember and trying not to think about the thousands of migrant workers dying in the shadows of Qatar construction cranes.
This is about Luis Suarez.
I understand that there are a number of people who are angry about Luis Suarez. There are many, many more who are outraged, and in that distinction lies the quantum state of affection. In our addiction to outrage, as the only socially accepted form of morality, we need something to demonize in order to appreciate our own non-demonic nature. Luis Suarez is that flesh eating monster for which our outrage machine yearns.
I don't lovehate Luis Suarez because he scores goals. There are thousands of people who score goals, and for the vast majority I feel nothing at all. I lovehate Suarez because he scores goals and bites people. Lance Stephenson fans know what I'm talking about. I lovehate Zlatan because he scores goals and kicks people. I lovehate Fernando Torres because he doesn't score goals. Anymore. Ask an Italian how they feel about Mario Balotelli. I lovehate Ann Coulter because she wrote a post dripping with arrogant ignorance.
Much of the appeal of sports is in the reshaping of the boundaries of human capability, those moments someone did something that you did not think was possible. Elite athletes already set the performance bar high, so those who are able to defy belief are rare. Those who are capable of reaching those rarified heights in multiple capacities are rarer still. Consider the rarity of star players being great coaches, or senators, or all-stars in another sport.
We live in an absurd world. We are enthralled by rich idiots, addicted to this reality television phenomenon that somehow manages to be none of the above. People who are capable of being more absurd than our cynical expectations are as rare as those exceptional few in any other arena of human endeavor. Luis Suarez is one of those people, and I enjoy football more with him involved.
I guess, at the moment, I'm confused. I don't understand why I don't get to watch Suarez and Rodriguez have a Bird-Wilkins (or Zlatan-Cristiano) moment this weekend. I know that Suarez bit a player during a game. I saw it, fell out of my chair, then ran around said chair in circles, chortling and hopping as the replays began and my phone exploded. I agree that the man should be fined, much like when a player in a basketball game hits another player in the testicles. Having been both bitten and nut-punched, let me tell you: one of those is far more painful, damaging, and offensive than the other. (Hint: not the one punished with a 4 month ban including athletic contests in other leagues, on other continents.)
As Landon Donovan would tell us, the World Cup carries on regardless of our personal inclinations. I hope this knockout round lives up to the opening number. I hope my fellow Americans can appreciate the passion and joy of another culture without having to internalize that as a criticism of our own sporting culture and lashing out from insecurity. I hope the officials manage to not dictate the results of matches. I hope for a number of things, but I will appreciate this World Cup no matter how it actually plays, because football taught me how to love and hate something at the same time, for the exact same reasons.
Thoughts on culture, community, and development.