In between, we watch World Cup matches, along with the rest of the world. Where else do you see young men from countries as diverse and conflict-prone as North Korea or Slovenia out on a field of non-lethal battle, testing their mettle, striving for victory, controlled by rules and sportsmanship? It's fantastic. The sheer volume and uniformity make it different than the Olympics I think. The world comes together and we see that people are people everywhere. No matter what the language or skin hue, when the team misses a close shot, everyone's hands go instinctively to their heads, the same gestures. When the anthems are played, everyone looks misty-eyed and proud. When the team succeeds, everyone jumps and hugs and acts wild. And football is an equalizing kind of sport. Not much equipment is needed for kids to grow up playing, and practicing. Sure, all the England players make boatloads of money in the Premier League. But the Ghanaians, coming from a place of poverty, can just as likely win.
And yesterday, we were proud to be Americans. Hoarse, but proud. Our team came from behind at the half to rally with passion and skill. They scored two goals, turning what had looked like an inevitable defeat into a tie. Then one of our players was fouled at the edge of the box in a blatant attempt to trip up a score. No red card? No penalty shot? Not fair, but we can still do it. Donovan crosses the ball on a free kick into the tangle of bodies in front of the goal. On the replay one can see at least three opponents basically body-slamming American players to the ground. But Edu (American) comes through, meets the ball, clean shot, goal. Victory is in hand. But then, wait, as the crowd erupts and the players celebrate, the ref (who has been notoriously power-playing throughout the match) has whistled the goal off. He negates the score. No explanation. The commentators on every channel review the footage. No one has a clue why the goal is disallowed. The ref refuses to answer the players on the field. The match ends as a tie. We're still in the running, but barely. Afterwards the reporters swarm the American coach, Bob Bradley, and the team captain, Landon Donovan. Both give inspiring, gracious interviews. They do not stoop to accusation, they admit honest disappointment and puzzlement, they vow to fight on. It was a class act.
So, an opportunity for young men from all over the world to test and prove themselves, for fans to cheer and glory, for Africa to be showcased as a continent of beauty and order, for a pause in all the other problems of life. And an opportunity for us to turn from sad, messy, sorting and packing for a couple of hours here and there. We're fans.