Why The World Cup Can Make You A Better Person

Michael Steele

Having a hard time getting with multiculturalism? Let me introduce my good friend, Señor Copa Mundial

I've watched a few of these global panglossial futbol orgies go down, kids. Pro tip: It's only going to get better.

I've been thinking a bit about the impact of all this football: three, four games a day. The repeated rituals - teams with kids, anthems, the exchange of tiny flags, kickoff. The sun goes up; the sun goes down; the football goes on, and what have we learned? What changes? What moves?

Since 1994, the year I tuned into all this insanity, we've shipped a goodly portion of our manufacturing jobs overseas; seen our financial sector steal the banked wealth of the Greatest Generation et al; and exulted, then stood aghast, as the internet first freed then shackled us.

It's been an eventful couple of decades, granted.

It's not hard to look at deal brokered for the start of MLS - hand us the first-division franchise in this godforsaken soccer wilderness, the now-owners said to FIFA - and sense the same hidden hand that has crafted a world of privilege and want, haves and have-nots. A suggestion that this one little rule (promotion and relegation, for example) - a defined pyramid won't work just here specifically; (or, alternately, a tightening of the water or air regulations would harm people  - not generally but definitely just here specifically).

And it's easy, in the framework of domestic soccer, to get one's love for the game caught in the spokes of the rivalry machine, turn all that good strong juice into a thin, bitter series of eye-pokes and rabbit-punches. The same people who carved out this craven injustice are feasting at the trough in Brazil, of course, this world being what it is. The awfulness is so close to the surface, now.

I do not wish to dwell upon that; there will be time for the reckoning, but this is not that time. I don't wish to focus there because the World Cup has also been a view into other cultures for me, soccer aesthete that I am; I have seen things I couldn't otherwise until they were refracted through the explanatory prism of soccer.

I came to understand an Argentinian's appreciation for the trickster by watching Maradona and Pablo Aimar, and the manipulator by watching Juan Roman Riquelme. A Brazilian's fading appreciation for magic (Ronaldinho) and rising love of clear-eyed opportunism (Neymar). Germany's subtle outreach to immigrants expressed by the curling, widdershins movement of Mesut Ozil. Mexico's sometimes self-destructive emphasis on guerra. Croatia's defiance. Japan's cultural mimicry. The USA's isolationist stubbornness.

You can, too. Just watch and realize: There's no wrong way to play this game. Understand that, and watch the polyphonic spectacle of it, and just try to feel like those other folks are the Other. Won't work.

There's time enough to sort out MLS. For now, let's take it all in. It's all to play for, and forever to play it in. Love conquers all.

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