How hard it is to write about soccer after the events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia this past weekend. Virginia is my home state, and I well remember the underlying (and sometimes not so underlying) racial tensions during my elementary years of the 1970s. And I remembered (1) how much I hated it, and (2) how much I was ready for a world in which Martin Luther King’s words would come true:
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Virginia has shown us continually that we have a long way to go.
But what about soccer?
In patriotic fervor, many of us grew up with an idea of American exceptionalism—something that truly resonated with many in this past election. But looking back, I remembered this being the reason as to why I did not embrace soccer at first. The American sports of baseball, basketball, and American football (especially American football, college and pro) ruled the sports landscape. Hockey? Nah, that’s Canadian. Soccer? Too European.
Now, it’s understandable to an extent. My uncles fought in the Pacific theatre in World War II. My father fought in the Korean War. America felt a need to both isolate themselves from outside influences, but also felt the world would be better if we influenced it. And I believe that the resistance to soccer was a residual effect of that mindset.
But here we are in 2017. And all I have to do is look at the Colorado Rapids roster, and am reassured that those national and political boundaries are not hard and fast. American, European, Central and South American, African; differing religious beliefs; differing backgrounds—all coming together for one goal, to win.
In looking over the roster again, I see Kevin Doyle from Ireland, a country that’s had it’s share of strife in their relationship with Northern Ireland. Shkelzen Gashi, from Albania, a country who came out from under the Communist regime in 1990 and had to deal with the transition (though Gashi was only two at the time). Micheal Azira hails from Uganda, whose history includes the brutal dictator Idi Amin. Under Amin’s regime, the country lost between 80,000 and 500,000 people.
The point of it all is that soccer is a melting pot, and bringing with it all our experiences and backgrounds that, even though they have their own particulars, echo what King Solomon noted in Ecclesiastes 1:9: “There is nothing new under the sun.”
What we have seen in Virginia is nothing new under the sun, sadly. But soccer gives hope that the notion of the melting pot of us coming together, all the while embracing backgrounds and differences, is a reason to embrace it.
I would contend that soccer is the most American of sports.