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Backpass 11-20-15: There’s Blood in My Soccer

What happens when the beautiful game of soccer is infiltrated by the ugly things in the world, like ISIS?

Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

I am, like a lot of people, a complicated, multifaceted individual. I'm a father and husband, rabbi, soccer fan, basketball coach, writer; I'm misanthropic, a peace-nik, I ski, I've got a wicked receding-hairline, I have a blown ACL, and I swear in traffic. Some of these things conflict with others. Oh well.

Life has a lot of this bleeding over from one thing to another. It's unavoidable. Nonetheless, with my soccer, I try as much as possible to avoid it.

Part of my obsession for soccer over the past two years was the result of going cold-turkey on listening to or watching the news. It got too damn depressing.

Being that I'm also a rabbi - one with family in Israel - detoxing from the news was nearly an act of self-preservation. Israel is a lovely country with nice cafes and wonderful tourist sites and pretty decent football. Being there is fantastic, and I highly recommend everyone go there someday. The news on Israel, however, is constantly terrible, both in regards to their interminable conflict with the Palestinians and other Arab neighbors, and in regards to their internal politics and infighting. So unplugging from the daily hate was the only way for me to stay sane.

But if football is a microcosm of the world, then it is inevitable that politics, and it's nasty step-siblings of greed and corruption and violence and xenophobia, are always going to stick their noses into the beautiful game. We saw it with Sepp Blatter and the ongoing FIFA scandal. We see it with the incidents of racism and fan violence and pitch invasions in soccer clubs in Eastern Europe and Russia.

And we saw it last Friday night, when an ISIS suicide bomber tried to kill soccer fans at a match between France and Germany at the Stade de France.

I know you've certainly read smart and moving articles on this tragedy, so I don't want to belabor the sentiment, but still, I'm gonna. Who does that? Who goes to a concert, or a soccer match, and kills the fans?This is a person that says to themselves: ‘I see lots of people are going about their lives, blowing off a little steam after a hard work week with a pint and a match. They go to their jobs and kiss their families and cheer for some guys kicking around a little ball. That sure bothers me. I think I'll kill them.' It boggles the mind.

As a rabbi, I spoke a little on it the other night. In short, I said this: people in France toast with the words ‘Vive Le France'. It's a culture of life; of vibrancy and joy and art and philosophy and wine and poetry and beauty and wine and architecture and cafe-sitting and wine. There are always some people who can't stand to see others being happy. Apparently, some of these people pretend that their killjoy-ideology is deeply rooted in the tenets of an ancient religion: that God Godself believes that ruining other people's fun is divinely commanded. It is not. If you think your religion teaches that in order for you to be happy, enlightened, and fulfilled, you need to ruin someone else's fun, or make them feel bad, or kill them; then either your religion sucks*, or the purported experts explaining your religion suck.

I don't want blood in my soccer. I want sport to heal and bring together, and not be another pitched battle in the nasty miserable vituperate 24-hour news cycle of Debbie-Downerism.

I also don't want fear of some fundamentalist asshats 10,000 miles away to dictate US immigration policy. I can give you lots of moral and personal and legal and historical reasons for this. But this is a soccer blog. So I'll give you a soccer reason. I'll give you 11 soccer reasons.

Joe Corona
Herculez Gomez
Darlington Nagbe
Benny Feilhaber
Matt Miazga
Ventura Alvarado
Miguel Ibarra
Omar Gonzalez
Nick Rimando
Greg Garza

All of them have played for the USMNT in the past 12 months. All are either immigrants or the children of immigrants. If we close the doors to immigration, we're ensuring that the World Cup of 2026 and beyond will be fruitless endeavors for the USMNT. Without the talent pool that comes from amazing soccer players and the parents of future amazing soccer players from around the world wanting to come here, in search of a better life, I'm not even sure we will qualify for future World Cups.

Take that idea I just had about talented soccer players. Then consider all of the talented football, baseball and basketball players that would never come here. Then think of the doctors, the lawyers, accountants, teachers, professors, engineers and scientists that would never come here. It would be a generational economic and social disaster this country would never recover from.

Clearly, the FBI and Homeland Security must be allowed to properly vet and check immigrants. Those security procedures have already been in place for two years. And of course there is risk. There is always risk. Our country has easy access to guns, a dearth of mental health services, and all kinds of rights and freedoms that allow people to make good choices and bad choices and controversial choices all the time. We've got lots of problems, but I sincerely doubt that adding a handful of Syrian refugees that have been carefully screened will have any noticeable impact on anything. Except the lives of those refugees.

So I want to go back to turning off the news. The daily news makes me crazy upset, and it makes me feel powerless, because wrongheaded individuals with national prominence get to make big important fear-mongering speeches and close the gates, and I can do nothing.

Well, not entirely nothing. My small personal contribution to this whole political firestorm will be this: I'm going to bring soccer balls to refugees resettled in Colorado. I want a kid; that just fled hell-on-earth in Raqqa or Aleppo and spent the next three years in a tent camp in Southern Turkey and just came to a strange country; I want that kid to know that people here want them here. Welcome them here. And love the beautiful game, just like they do.

I'll be volunteering with Lutheran Family Services. I'll make and deliver some welcome baskets. I'll wrap some presents. I invite you to donate, and volunteer, with me. Sign up here. I'll give out specifics over twitter.

I want to heal and help, and do it with the sport that we all love. I'm tired of feeling powerless. And I'm tired of blood in my soccer.



* A thoughtful reader pointed out that I might be misunderstood when I used the phrase 'then your religion sucks.' Let me clarify: your religion does not suck. No religion inherently sucks. Religions are full of thoughtful moral advice passed down from thousands of years of wisdom and spiritual exploration. They are also like snowballs; they scoop up lots of other stuff as they roll. All religions; including my own Judaism, have ugly dark parts from pre-modern people that thought that lashes or revenge killing or institutionalized misogyny are countenanced by God. Most religions are like this. Religious leaders can then choose the beautiful, spiritual, elevating elements of the religion, or the mean, violent, cruel bits. Witness the Crusades, the Spanish Expulsion, the militant call for Jihad, or the condemning of heretics to death, and you see what I mean. Religion can be good. Religious leaders can be good. They can also suck.