Editor’s Desk

This is soccer at its best

July 4, 2014 

When it comes to soccer, Americans fall into one of two camps.

In the one camp are those fans who think this World Cup, with its competitive U.S. team, will lift soccer to its rightful place in the U.S. sports hierarchy. People in this camp long for the day when ESPN’s “Sports Center” leads with that day’s MLS highlights, not the status of a hangnail on Lebron James’ shooting hand.

If you’re among the millions of people who don’t know what MLS stands for, then you fall in the other camp, whose members are quite certain that football, basketball, baseball and hockey will always dominate the American sports landscape.

This camp includes the political pundit Ann Coulter, who wrote recently that any rise in soccer’s popularity in America is evidence of the country’s moral decline. That’s quite the assertion, though if true, it would take some of the pressure off of Miley Cyrus, who, before soccer, was, apparently, ruining America single-handedly.

Personally, I am not a soccer fan, at least not in the sense that “fan” is short for “fanatic.” But for roughly two months every four years, I watch as much of the World Cup as my work schedule will allow. It has nothing to do with the United States’ growing competitiveness on the world stage; I’m just as happy watching France play Nigeria, which I did while writing this column.

I watch the World Cup because this is soccer played at its highest level. It’s the same reason some people watch only baseball’s World Series, football’s Super Bowl, hockey’s Stanley Cup or basketball’s NBA Finals. They want to see a sport’s best teams compete for the ultimate prize.

No doubt, soccer can be frustrating to watch. Its rules discourage scoring, which is certainly foreign to anyone who grew up watching football and basketball. In those two sports, it’s OK for an offensive player to beat a defensive player down the field or court; in soccer, it’s a deadly sin.

Neither am I a fan of soccer’s constant flopping – or players feigning injury in hopes of earning a free kick, penalty kick or a yellow card for the opposing player. I think if soccer treated injured players the same way horse racing treats lame horses, flopping would disappear. More seriously, I think flopping would end if supposedly injured players had to come off the field for five or 10 minutes.

It bothers me too that the world’s most popular sport can choose a world champion on penalty kicks. That’s essentially deciding a world champion based on guesswork – which goalie guesses right more often.

But if you saw, for example, Portugal’s last-second goal to tie the United States, you saw soccer played at its highest level. And that is why I watch the World Cup.

Live and let live

Speaking of Miley Cyrus, I wish folks would leave her alone.

I get that she often pushes the boundaries of propriety, or so I have read. Truth be told, I have seen none of that, because, thanks to instructions from a toddler, I know how to operate the “Power,” “Channel” and “Mute” buttons on the cable box remote.

As a parent, I know how hard it is to police the content today’s children have access to – TV, radio, CDs, DVDs, books, magazines and the seemingly infinite Internet. But to blame the artists and their many outlets is to abdicate my responsibilities as a parent.

I would hazard a guess that my 18-year-old daughter has seen and heard things that I would be embarrassed to know that she has seen and heard. But to the extent that she has done so, it was because I wasn’t being a particularly policing parent. Perhaps I was too busy reading or listening to something that my mother would have been embarrassed to know I was reading or listening to.

But that’s on me, not on Miley.

Beyond that, I think Miley Cyrus should be free to live her life as she sees fit. A lot of people think she is on a self-destructive path entirely of her own making. Personally, she strikes me as calculatingly provocative, twerking all the way to the bank. Or maybe she’s an artist expressing herself. Imagine that.

Reality is anyone’s guess, but as long as she’s not hurting anyone else, I don’t care.

Ditto for Johnny Manziel, who is suddenly getting unsolicited lifestyle advice from the likes of Cowboys great Emmitt Smith. The Hall of Fame running back predicted Manziel would have a short pro football career because of his hard-partying lifestyle.

Maybe, but isn’t that Johnny Football’s decision to make?

Granted, Manziel is a little different from Miley Cyrus in that he has bosses; Miley is essentially self-employed. But the Cleveland Browns drafted Manziel knowing his history, and in any event, they are free to offer him a contract that, monetarily, reflects whatever concerns they have about his behavior.

The journalist Hunter S. Thompson said, “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a ride!’”

I’m not sure I subscribe to that; Thompson, after all, later killed himself. But if Miley Cyrus, Johnny Football, et al, want to go to their graves saying, “Wow. What a ride,” who am I to tell them they can’t?

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