Remember the Kirk Cameron video about how a banana is “the atheist’s nightmare?” If not, a refresher: the banana was perfectly formed to the human hand, complete with a tab on the top for our opening ease. There is even “a point at the top for ease of entry” into the mouth, which is something I will refrain from making a dirty joke about. The idea is that the perfect suitability of a banana for human consumption is irrefutable evidence of the existence of a Creator God. (Nevermind that bananas are also eaten rather extensively by primates.)
Apparently, what bananas are to atheists, soccer is to theists. That is, a terrible nightmare we must quickly decry for the lie it is. Now, no one could ever accuse me of loving soccer. In fact, I think it is on the quite boring end of the sports-watching spectrum, and having played myself for the 1993-94 Chino Hills Royal Babes, I am all too aware of the risk to players, like getting a ball to the stomach from the opposing team or, once you’re in the professional world, getting bitten. But ever since a group of friends invited me into a EuroCup bracket in 2012 (which I improbably won), I’ve kept a passive eye on the beautiful game.
Now, I am learning that my Christian faith is actually at odds with the sport. There was an article published yesterday by that robot in a blond wig, Ann Coulter, that I will not link to but that argues enthusiasm for soccer is a sign of America’s moral decline because it turns us all into crazy liberal Europeans, or something. Coulter’s distaste for the sport aside, I remembered a chapter in Chuck Klosterman’s book Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs in which he rails against soccer being “the sport of the future.” For a piece at ESPN.com, Klosterman observed
“For all practical purposes, soccer is the sports equivalent of abortion; in America, hating (or embracing) soccer is the core litmus test for where you exist on the jocko-political continuum.”
It may sound strange, but there is evidence to back it up. Writing for the conservative think tank Ethics & Public Policy Center, George Weigel said he would watch the World Cup because it gave him a chance to relate to his students. “But I wish it would happen through a sport that acknowledges a simple, biblical truth,” he wrote. “God gave us opposable thumbs for a reason.” Conservative political speechwriter Marc Thiessen had a piece at the American Enterprise Institute (what is the deal with right-wing think tanks running pieces about soccer??) in which he decried soccer as socialist:
“Soccer is the only sport in the world where you cannot use the one tool that distinguishes man from beast: opposable thumbs. ‘No hands’ is a rule only a European statist could love.”
If that’s the case, to borrow a joke, then God’s favorite sport must be thumb-wrestling.
Weigel and Theissen aren’t outliers in the patriotic fight against encroaching European values. Boston Globe sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy published a column about “Ignoring the World Cup” in which he wrote “Soccer takes away our hands…Hands and opposable thumbs separate us from creatures of the wild.” Ian Crouch has a great piece at The New Yorker about America’s history of contempt for soccer.
I have heard groups of young people chanting “USA! USA!” only twice in my life. The first was at a bar in Los Angeles on the night of November 6, 2012, when it became clear that Barack Obama had been re-elected to a second term as President. The other time? This past Sunday, when US forward Clint Dempsey scored and briefly took the lead over Portugal. The hyper-conservative, reactionary thinkers who would paint soccer with a broad brush seem to be ignoring whole swaths of new young patriots, probably because their politics don’t align with the American Enterprise Institute’s.
I’ll keep mostly ignoring the World Cup, but not for fear of liberalism–I’m just not enthralled by it. (Although I’m also convinced that any sport that can create the likes of Olivier Giroud can stick around just as long as it wants to.) In the meantime, remember that possums have opposable thumbs. On their feet. Maybe God created soccer just for them.