The World Cup has been going on for over a week and I am a fan. Soccer was one of the first sports I played as a kid, it’s the one I played the longest and the one I had the most fun playing. I even was able to attend a ’94 World Cup game in Massachusetts while we were living in New Hampshire. This year, I was going to be the soccer coach at school, but we were unable to get enough participation to have a team. All this to say that I like soccer, it’s the only sport I can even bring myself to watch on TV (exception: the Olympics).
When I was an 8-year-old American kid in 1994 who loved soccer I, perhaps predictably, cheered for the US. I even had a t-shirt replica of the jersey that I wore everywhere.In High School, I was a punk. What I mean to say by this is that I had my share of dissent for dissent’s sake. I also, as most teenagers do, began thinking more critically about the world in a logical sort of way as well. If you did the math, you then also know that I was in high school on September 11, 2001 which made all of us think a little differently. I began to learn about the ways the US had been a bully to other nations throughout our history. How we would support an autocratic leader when it was in our interest and then turn around and take out another (or the same one). Or give a group of insurgents weapons for their revolution only to have them used against us when we decided things weren’t going the way we wanted. I saw how we were trying to reduce and discourage violence by using violence. And, of course, how on top of it all, the only thing we score highest in among other nations is the confidence we have in how amazing we are. All of this left a sour taste in my mouth for the USA. Even now as a freshman math teacher, I am supposed to be socializing these students into becoming upstanding and productive citizens, but I know that if we allow them to become the misguided arrogant American stereotype, we are doing our students and our nation a disservice. We need an America that is worthy of our young people. One that is confident where we excel and humble where we do not, one that is honest in our intentions and knows how to be wrong, one that uses peace, instead of violence, to promote peace. Our students need to see this.
So, what does this have to do with the World Cup? Well, it’s hard for me to add my voice to the chorus of “U-S-A, U-S-A” when I know many of us were chanting the same thing when we invaded Iraq, annexed Hawaii, or forced Native Americans onto the Trail of Tears because we were confident that this was our land and we could use it better. I can’t wave the flag knowing some of the places it has been. I bring this up because Sunday, while I was watching the US play Portugal I saw this man in the stands dressed as a San Juan-ready Teddy Roosevelt. Given Roosevelt’s imperialist and jingoist tendencies especially toward the Caribbean, Central and South America, I feel like this was horribly insensitive.I realized this year that I genuinely want the US team to do well. We’ve been building up to this since ’90 and have a pretty good team this year. A good showing will only help further the sport in America, but I just can’t get past the past. So I’ll be cheering quietly and reluctantly to myself tomorrow as the US takes on Germany for a chance to move on to the elimination round and feeling kind of guilty while I do it.