On Love and Hate of the Game
Apparently a rather popular sporting event happened last night. The only reason I mention it is because the reaction to it on my social media got me thinking about some larger issues.
I know what you are saying to yourself: “Here we go, when Murph thinks it’s never good.” You may be right, in fact I am certain of it. That, however has never stopped me before and it wont stop me know.
Let’s face it, not all sports are created equal. That inequality changes based on many things: gender, geography, ethnicity, etc. If you are reading this its pretty safe to say that at the very least, Futbol = Football in your world. That is not true for everyone. Here in America one game is bigger than the other. Now we can get into the numbers of kids who play each and yada, yada, yada. Suffice it to say that when it comes to TV ratings and more importantly advertising dollars, Football > Futbol.
I use the same name here for a reason. I grew up in a world where boys played football or baseball and sometimes even basketball. Rich kids played hockey or tennis, and that strange kid down the block or the foreign kid at school played Futbol. I played none of the above. My brothers played them and I spent a lot of time at their games. I understand them, I just never cared for them. I don’t dislike them, I just simply wasnt interested. My tastes were different.
As I got older, I found Futbol through other sports, and my Punk Rock based Anglophillia. I finally fell in love with the game and a team because of a specific player. What I immediately began to notice was the way Futbol was viewed by fans of other sports.
I was always bemused by other sports fans calling Futbol gay. Now when the word gay is brandished about these people they don’t really mean homosexual they mean “less than” or “effete”. There are several definitions of effete, but the ones most closely related to the sentiment are: soft or delicate, lacking vigor, or overly refined.
While taking a class on Immigration in college I learned that all stereotypes have some basis in truth or historical context. I suppose those really are no different. I can point to some famous examples where each one of those is true for Futbol. The problem is that they could be true for any sport.
So back to the vitriol between Futbol and Football. I am as baffled by the amount of Futbol fans that hold Football in contempt as vice versa. My social media was jammed with banter from both sides tonight and it occurred to me. “Why do these two sports go at each other almost exclusively?” I mean, if I said on social media that I didn’t care for Tennis I am reasonably sure I wouldn’t get a single reply, let alone ones questioning my masculinity, political affiliation, or sexual orientation. Why? Because tennis fans like tennis and don’t really care if I do or don’t. So again Why the hate?
I think Football fans feel slightly threatened by Futbol, for what reason I am not exactly sure. Perhaps its too refined? Maybe the amount of combined athletic ability and technical skill involved reaches outside their comfort zone? Because the fluidity of the game itself runs counter to sports based on “turns” like baseball and football. Maybe its the fact that the World Cup is the largest sporting event on the planet and that makes them feel challenged by a sport they mostly don’t even understand. I can’t honestly say, because it really never occurred to me to hate another sport. I simply don’t understand what all the fuss is about.
What I can speak about with relative authority is some of the reasons why Futbol fans rankle at Football. For many, Futbol is wrapped into their cultural and social roots. Many of the people I know discovered the game as part of their initiation into alternative social and cultural choices. Like punk rock’s inherent Anglophillia, or a budding fascination with all things European. For other,s its part of their family or ethnic identity. No matter the reason why the sport is tagged to who you are, or at least to who you see yourself as, it very certainly is closely tied to many people’s identity. To have that challenged becomes personal, way too personal for some folks.
In my line of work, if you are going to survive, you have to develop a thick skin. Everything that you are or care about will become fair game for school boy ridicule eventually. It’s a healthy hazing that helps break down barriers and encourages people to identify themselves less as individuals and more as part of the team. Good team dynamics can save lives in my business, so a certain amount of abuse is accepted, because the ultimate outcome is a positive thing.
In the wider world, challenging someone’s identity will usually elicit a visceral reaction. But I think looking a little deeper here, many Futbol fans enjoy being the victim. They revel in the alternative identity that they feel Futbol gives them. Evidence can be found on message boards and social media everywhere. Even the art and tailgate practices of many supporters groups all over the country point to the idea that many of these people view themselves outside the norm. My favorite Tweet today was, and I apologize because I don’t recall who it was and I am sure my quote wont be exactly right, but it went something like this: “Oh great, today is the day my timeline will be filled with how people are too cool to like Football.” I think that sentiment sums it up nicely. Sometimes you have to look in the mirror and take ownership of what is rightfully yours. This may be one of those times. As long as we want to be victimized by being viewed as “less than” and “different from”, we will.
There are plenty of “less than” sports in this country and even the world. I don’t see any evidence that any of them could be arsed to care how fans of other sports view them. I have never witnessed an argument between a NASCAR fan and a Hockey fan about the validity of the others sport of choice. I am pretty sure no one ever arm wrestled over Test Cricket and Hose Racing, it’s absurd.
I believe that this victimization is fading as the game matures in this country, but slowly, as Michael Hitchcock from PMI and the NASLs San Antonio Scorpions pointed out to me recently. “We are only into the first generation of soccer people in this country”. Meaning that now, for the first time we have Americans in positions of authority within the game that have grown up entirely in the sport. There are guys like Alexi and Greg Lalas, and others as well, who have made a living their entire adult lives in this sport, as opposed to transplants from other professional sports. That’s a big deal. It brings a different context to a table filled with people with backgrounds in other sports. It fosters a different perspective, and hopefully will allow the game to grow in a more organic natural way here. Only time will tell but it looks promising for sure.
To put it in perspective what kind of NFL would exist if the people steering the ship were Futbol people? Perhaps a very different one, perhaps not, but one could easily argue it convincingly either way.
No matter what your sporting bent is, the fact that this debate elicits such passionate responses from both sides is nothing but positive. It shows an internalization of the game, the feeling that we own it and guard it jealousy. With care like that how can it do anything other than flourish?
I am not sure exactly where this was supposed to go, or even why I felt strongly enough to write about it but I did, so there.