American eats three hamburgers a week, 16 orders of French fries a month, 25
pounds of candy a year ... and is profoundly uninterested in the World Cup.
Soccer, it appears, is the only thing we don't want crammed down our throats.
What does this attitude toward the World Cup say about the U.S.? It illuminates
many of our least flattering qualities as a nation, not least of which is a
breathtaking incuriosity about the rest of the world. (For more World Cup
coverage, see page 54.)
A new Roper poll
says two thirds of Americans aged 18 to 24 can't find Iraq on a map. (Half
can't find New York City on a map of the U.S.) When Paraguay plays Trinidad and
Tobago in Kaiserslautern, Germany, on June 20, it will seem less like a match
than a geography test we didn't study for.
We also don't like
to acknowledge foreign innovation, which partly explains why you've never heard
of Kerlon Souza. He's an 18-year-old Brazilian midfielder who invented the seal
dribble--he can flick the ball from his foot onto his forehead in heavy
traffic, then dribble the ball just above his eyebrows while slaloming around
defenders at full speed.
of Souza's parlor trick is available on the Internet, which smuggles soccer
highlights into American homes, past the unsuspecting gatekeepers at
SportsCenter. Like the Internet, the seal dribble is a quantum leap, a
game-changing innovation that dwarfs the forward pass in American football. As
Souza has said, "Nobody can get the ball without fouling me."
brilliant player, Ronaldinho, is victimized by another insidious American bias:
We will not abide ponytails on any athlete not named Chris Evert. In soccer the
world's superstar du jour-- Ronaldinho today, David Beckham before him, Roberto
Baggio before him--inevitably wears a ponytail at the peak of his fame. But try
naming a single American male athlete who has ever gotten away with one.
(Besides Secretariat.) It's part of a broader tonsorial xenophobia that has but
a single salutary side effect: It killed the movie career of Steven Seagal.
Soccer doesn't fit
our self-image. We fancy ourselves ass-kickers, not grass-kickers. The American
misapprehension that soccer is played by ponytailed pansies may derive from the
game's epidemic of diving. Francis Lee, Manchester City midfielder of the 1960s
and '70s, has the world's worst Wikipedia entry. Not only is Lee discredited as
the Pioneer of the Dive, but he also earned another, even less appealing
epithet after football, when he became a toilet paper magnate known as the Bog
While diving is
indefensible, the fact remains: Soccer players--running nonstop for two
45-minute halves--are fitter than athletes in the NBA and are probably more
frequently concussed than those in the NFL.
And they have the
best names in all of sport. This year's World Cup will feature Angola's Antonio
Lebo-Lebo and Arsenio Love, the Ivory Coast's Boubacar Barry and the Brazilian
mononyms Fred and Kak�. One of Ghana's final cuts was Junior Agogo. We can only
hope he has a brother named Whiskey.
proposed walling off the Mexican border: Subliminally, our World Cup aversion
may have less to do with red cards and yellow cards than green cards. We aren't
the world. And likewise, the world isn't us. The sport we care most deeply
about, American football, holds no interest to the rest of humankind, unless
you count fans of the Rhein Fire.
So let's open our
minds, if not our borders. Check out the video of Colombia's goalkeeper, Luis
Martinez, scoring on Poland last week in a freaky, fluky, length-of-the-pitch
punt that was viewed half a million times the first 24 hours it was posted on