World Cup: An Ugly American’s Perspective

Well, I’m not really, like, super ugly. More kind of average-looking, you know, I have my good days and bad days.  Anyway!

I’ll admit up front that my knowledge of the game is rudimentary at best, despite having been an assistant coach for two season and a head coach for one season at the JV high school level (aside: first day on the job as a teacher, the school’s athletic director pointed his crooked finger at me and said, “JV soccer.” I responded with, “I’ve never played the game in my life.” His quid to my pro quo: “JV soccer.”  Um, okay!). I love and I’ve played and I’ve coached basketball and baseball. Those games I feel like I understand, down to their minutiae.

That all said, I’ve very much enjoyed watching the World Cup. It is certainly a thrilling sporting event with breath-taking moments of drama and athleticism (which, at sport’s most basic level, is the reason I watch). Today’s Netherlands vs. Brazil match was fantastic.

So soccer, or football, as you insist, you and me only have one problem. The flopping and diving (flopping definition: diving on the ground and acting like the opposing player sawed off your leg at the knee in order to fool the referee) by your players is out of control, and downright embarrassing and disgusting at times. It’s been so bad I’ve almost turned it off.

The NBA seems to be soccer’s closest analog in the flop-factor, but it’s not really close. In some of these matches (even during today’s thrillfest, later in the second half), the flopping is constant.

Maybe my disdain for the floppers is a reflection of the macho undercurrent in the US’s sporting culture: the glorification of players who can play through pain and without drawing attention to the injury, etc. But I think there’s more to it than that. The spin soccer fans put on flopping (at least when I’ve talked to them about it) is that flopping is a sign of a cagey competitor, a sign of a player who understands the nuances of the game, and by earning a free kick, a card on the opponent, or even a penalty kick, the flopper has changed the game by smarts and guile.

I call bunk. It’s bunk because flopping is easy. Anyone and everyone can pretend to be hurt, pretend to catch a phantom elbow, pretend to be tackled illegally. If it was hard to do, you’d see less players, on all levels of soccer, doing it.  They all do it! There’s no honor in flopping. Abusing the rules intended to protect you isn’t guile or savvy. It’s essentially cheating. Flopping isn’t honorable because it relies on the referee making the bogus call instead of you forcing the action and making a play yourself. As a sports fan, I want to watch the players who push themselves beyond the average person’s level of endurance, players who face adversity by playing harder, playing through injury and setback, players who play the “right way.”

So soccer, you and me are good. Can you just find a way to tone down the flopping, okay?

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