What Is Real?

I’m starting to wonder what I really believe in. Are there no eternal truths? Is everything relative?

The thing that has brought me to this moment of crisis is soccer. I have spent a lifetime mocking it when I gave it any thought at all, which I almost never did — just like most Americans.

But then I watched a couple of World Cup games. In both cases my teams — the USA and Poland — lost, but I found the games themselves sort of entertaining. And the biggest part of that was the fact that the games weren’t stopped every 60 seconds for another commercial time out or a review of a play or a penalty or to reset the clock. American professional and college football games are pretty much impossible to watch in real time. The only way they can be endured is by recording them and fast forwarding through all the commercials and painstaking analysis of every damn play. George Will had it right when he wrote, “Football combines two of the worst things in American life. It is violence punctuated by committee meetings.”

I enjoyed watching soccer. What’s wrong with me?

By contrast soccer flows. It keeps moving. As Wall Street Journal sports writer Jason Gay points out, “At a time when college football games last longer than graduate school, the World Cup makes a case for briskly-played action.”

I found the same thing to be true about high school football. Last month I watched a couple of the WIAA championship games and it was a pleasure. I enjoyed those games much more than any Packer game this season — and it wasn’t just because the Packers don’t look as competent as the high schools teams.

What professional soccer and amateur football have in common is that it’s still about the game. The NFL is about selling you stuff. The few minutes of action you get here and there are just interspersed among the commercials. (If this comes off as in any way a defense of FIFA, let me recant that in the strongest possible terms. FIFA and the International Olympic Committee are pirates, fascists, and human rights violators. To my knowledge, the WIAA is none of these things.)

Still, there’s no chance the NFL will change. That’s because we fans are saps. Despite the pain of real time NFL games, we still watch. The average game gets 17 million viewers. Even the major World Cup matches involving America averaged only 12 million and your typical pro soccer game, outside of the World Cup, gets maybe 600,000 people tuning in.

Coming around on soccer is troubling to me. Not being able to touch a ball with your hands seems awfully Un-American. These are not the values on which I was raised, these are not the principles on which this great nation was built. And yet, anything that offers less violence and fewer committee meetings is powerfully attractive.

I don’t know what I believe anymore.

Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

6 thoughts on “What Is Real?

  1. Offers LESS violence? There’s no less than 17 career ending injuries every game!

    The fact that they all miraculously get better is no excuse.


  2. I love these insightful sports commentaries. I watch the NFL on YouTube. Almost every pass is caught or intercepted. Almost every run is for long yardage or a touchdown or preferably both. An entire game takes only minutes. You can skip most of the ads. And I watch it in my office where my wife doesn’t walk by and make snide remarks about Aaron Rogers all the time.

    How much more god, country, and free enterprise can you get! I know, I know, I’m missing the festive atmosphere, the human drama, and the cheerleaders. But hey, the cheerleaders are on YouTube, too.

    You’re thinking, dude, you’re just addicted to sex and violence. But no, many cheerleaders have backgrounds in dance (according to a quite in-depth expose I watched on YouTube at great length), which injects a lot of art and culture into the game. Then there is the celebration: There’s beer. And chips. Basically fat, sugar, salt and alcohol. Very sporting. A celery stalk makes for a healthy edible scoop for the dip.

    I’m afraid that when you pissed off soccer fans — all 736 of them — you quickly realized your error. You could’ve pissed off 100,000,000,000,000,000 NFL fans instead. Your work is done here.

    I’m going to go back and read that blog where you took the side of English imperialism on the 4th of July. Jolly good show. Of course now the English all hate you for your comments on soccer. Except the cricket fans. Any thoughts? Now there’s batting on a full wicket!


  3. You should definitely check out a Forward game at Breese Stevens some summer evening. The game is over in two hours, the setting is idyllic and prices are reasonable. Also, unlike the do or die importance of college football, most people leave happy, regardless of the outcome.


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