All the recent American fervor over the World Cup is easily the sorriest display of fandom the sports world has ever seen. It is no secret that America does not like soccer. In fact, it is a well-established fact that America as a nation neither embraces soccer nor cares at all about the plethora of exceptional soccer leagues throughout the world. However, recently we’ve been seeing a lot of public discussion about the sport and America’s place on the world stage. But why is that? It’s only once every four years that American soccer pundits emerge from their hibernations. Why is this year any different? Spoiler alert; it’s not.
The root cause of all American “soccer enthusiasm” is nationalism. Nationalism is the primary catalyst behind most nation’s exuberance during international sporting events. When it comes to the World Cup, however, the entirety of the world sans America has an existing and genuine interest in the sport. America does not. We care so little about the MLS, our own domestic league, that we could faint mid-match and require a gurney to carry us off, much like most of the fake-injury-plagued soccer stars that we care nothing about. It is the same reason that every four years we cheer for a bobsledder or shot-putter that we’ve never heard of nor do we care exists. Soon after the event is over, they fade into obscurity along with the “passionate” fans who only a week earlier could tell you where they went to high school and what their favorite food is. Americans have a gluttonous desire to prove to anyone willing to listen that we are better. We don’t know why nor do we really care what we’re better at; we’re just better.
American nationalism is the worst kind of nationalism because it is hollow and purposeless. When given an opportunity to defeat another country at anything, Americans will sing to the high heavens the greatness of our union. We will champion the excellence of America at whatever challenge is presented. We will scurry quietly to our computers where we’ll Google the names of the competitors and then bombard a conversation with our “knowledge” as if we were raised learning about the history and accolades of our more obscure domestic athletes.
When the events are over, it’s remarkable how quickly the average American mind reverts to its normal state. We know subconsciously that because many of these international events only happen every four years, that the next time around we will likely have to learn a new set of names in order to bombast knowledge from the water cooler. Even more remarkable, perhaps, is that many of the unknown athletes we touted, will spend the next four years of their lives earning their professional income in another nation. This is primarily the case with soccer. Yet, of these “super fans,” how many among them will trace the careers of their “favorite” American soccer stars through the English Premier League or German Bundesliga while awaiting another World Cup?
This nation has reached a point in its history where virtually everyone born an American citizen was born into a developed and advanced nation. When none of the citizenry has really experienced national subjugation, it is difficult to sustain a believable nationalism for any length of time. This is why Americans rally around sports; because they truly have nothing else to rally around. We know in our hearts that an international sporting event will meet our two basic requirements for giddy nationalism; it will be temporary and it will appear genuine. Whether consciously or not, when dealing with serious issues like state solidarity or kicking a colorful orb around a field of green, Americans inherently know that we care about neither and will struggle to feign interest for more than a few weeks.
For a brief time every few years, Americans use ambiguous sporting events such as the World Cup to cultivate an atmosphere of pride, for however brief a moment. It is entirely false. Completely contrived. Barely believable. But in a country filled with shallow and mindless followers, it’s a valiant attempt nonetheless.
So good luck in the 2014 World Cup, America. Oh wait, what? We already lost? Ok, whoever dies with the most toys wins. Good night.