I’m Kicked Off
(This article is also posted in the NY DAILY NEWS)
With the elimination of the U.S. in world cup soccer competition by Ghana this past Saturday I felt a sense of enormous relief. I finally got my country back. My sports pages back. I had been held hostage for over a month by all the pre-hype before the world cup start and the day to day sounds of the dreaded vuvuzelas that was driving me out of my mind. Everywhere I’d go, “workplace soccer displacement” was in full effect. Salespeople, retailers, office workers were gathered around work place TV screens IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DAY. Their focus wasn’t on doing their job but on rooting for the USA, Mexico, England, Italy, or countries that I couldn’t pronounce nor find on a map. Soccer was infecting our workplace with a European style social democracy work ethic… what do you expect when you embrace a European sport that’s promoted in countries that riot over anything less than six weeks of paid vacation?
Then to duck into a bar and seek relief from the heat, you had to run a gauntlet of wannabe euro-slackers asking you who you were rooting for in the football match that morning? “Are you disappointed in Langdon?” Or, “what do you think the problem with our sweeper is?” Enough. Give me good old American smash mouth football or give me death. Not that fake phony fraudulent football that they spell with a ‘u.’ And then the subject of their special world cup soccer ball came up. Some say it’s a floater, some say it’s a sinker, I say it’s a ball that looks like it’s covered in maxi-pads and then that leads to a fight. All I wanted to do in the bar was not even to bend my elbow but just get a Yankee score update from ESPN’s Sports Center. But every TV in the bar was tuned to soccer. Even ESPN Sports Center was giving updates on Slovenia and Slovakia. Countries that I didn’t even know existed.
And then the height of the frenzy occurred when Team USA beat Algeria 1 – 0 and headed into the second round. Mike Lupica of the news while having his strawberries and cream at Wimbeldon wrote that at that moment soccer became America’s sport.
Not before and not now. In 1977, the New York Cosmos had Pele, Beckenbauer, Chinaglia and a world all star cast playing before packed crowds at the Meadowlands. Stars and starlets, trendoids and jetsetters became groupies of the Cosmos. From the Meadowlands to Studio 54 the Cosmos owned New York. But they couldn’t wean us away from baseball, football, and basketball. It was proved to be a diversion and a part of the Andy Warhol generation. It had its 15 minutes of fame.
And in 1994 soccer surged again as the world cup was played at stadiums throughout the United States. Packed crowds at the Meadowlands, Soldier Field, the Cotton Bowl, the Rose Bowl and other venues. The final decided by a shootout between Brail and Italy. By now soccer was institutionalized in our schools. This world cup was meant to break the barrier. Wrong again. (1999) Women’s world cup final won by the U.S. made famous by Brandi Chastain’s sports bra moment, seen by 18 million viewers. This gender bender moment was supposed to cross soccer into estrogen a well as testosterone U.S. turf. Failed again.
Then in 2004 Major League soccer discovered at14 years of age its own natural. Freddy Adu. Born in Ghana but raised in Maryland. He was the combination of Kobe Bryant and Mickey Mantle. He would be the new poster child of American soccer. Freddy Adu hasn’t even played in World Cup competition. But this time South Africa’s World Cup would change it all. NOT.
Because July 4th our nations birthday should remind us of our difference with the rest of the world. As Elena Kagan goes through her confirmation process to become the next United States Supreme Court Justice the picture that most stands out in my mind is of her softball batting stance and her allegiance to the Mets. Or Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a Yankee fan who said “You can’t grow up in the South Bronx without knowing about baseball.”
And better than anyone else sports columnist cartoonist and World War II hero for the New York Daily News Bill Gallo who told me that as a son of Basque immigrants. His father would take him on Sundays to watch soccer played on Randalls Island.
And yet he chose to play and write about baseball, football, basketball and boxing. Thank God I’ve got my sports pages back. And thank God right before Uncle Sam’s birthday, I got my country back.