Monday, June 7, 2010

Internationalism

So it didn't really hit me until today that I'm leaving for Europe in 36 hours. I saw an ESPN promo for the USA-England match on Saturday and I realized that I'm going to be in London then:



I love the fact that ESPN decided to sample T-Paine (that's Thomas Paine, the guy whose propaganda helped start a war with the Brits) for their ad. It really stirs up--not very subtly, but whatever--the kind of national pride that Americans don't have enough of when it comes to soccer.

See, soccer is the world's sport, and we've always sucked at it or just ignored it entirely. These things probably go hand in hand--I bet if the US were consistently world-class in soccer we would pay attention to the World Cup every four years. Anyway, the point is that the US has never really had to be internationalist when it comes to sports. We're home to the undisputed #1 leagues in the world for baseball, basketball, football, and hockey. Every four years we might stop paying attention to the NBA Finals long enough to watch the Olympics, but nobody really cares about the outcome (I have never met anyone who is deeply invested--like, in a Red Sox-Yankees, camp-out-overnight-to-buy-tickets kind of way--in the US Olympic medal count). And since we always win the Olympics--arguably, the last time we were challenged was in 1980, and even then we won the Miracle on Ice--there's really not that much national pride riding on the outcome.

The Olympics are really the beginning and the end of the US international sporting experience (not counting jokes like the World Baseball Classic, NBA Europe, playing a Giants game in London, or any of the other stunts where none of the best players even show up). As a country, we haven't had to pull together and root for one of our national teams in a situation where we could lose in a very long time, and I wonder if we even know how to do it. For the rest of the world, it's normal to have a giant, genuine outburst of passion and patriotism every four years. As a US sports fan, not so much.

This ESPN ad blitz has me excited though, because it shows that ESPN is banking on Americans supporting US soccer. If there was ever a time for this to happen, it's now. Our team is a bunch of scrappy underdogs, the kind of group that America loves to love. One of our strikers is a skinny Texan from the wrong side of the tracks known for doing diving headers through traffic; the other is a 20-year-old man-child from New Jersey who can out-muscle any of the world's best defenders. In a do-or-die situation, we may be one of the best teams in the Cup (or certainly one of the most feared: see for example Confederations Cup, 2009). If you need a reason to support the US (other than, you know, being American), just watch this video:




The million dollar question, which hit me today, is "Do I love the USMNT enough to wear a US jersey on the streets of London on Saturday?" Put it this way: after this rant, I think I would be doing a disservice to myself and to my country if I didn't.

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