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.

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