William C. Rhoden, sportswriter for The New York Times since 1983, was sent to South Africa to cover soccer’s World Cup for America’s supposed Newspaper of Record. But on Friday, writing under a Soweto dateline, the sports correspondent proudly revealed that beyond his reporting and commentary on the play, in the context of the World Cup’s historic cultural significance for the African continent, he is actually rooting against Team USA.
On Saturday in the Tswana city of Rustenburg, the U.S. plays Ghana, the last African team still standing, in the Round of 16. “If this were just a game,” according to Rhoden, “there is no question where my rooting interest would lie: Go USA.”
Instead, however, the Baltimore native told the Gray Lady’s readers that he wants his country to lose. “As much as this match meant to United States soccer, Ghana’s success could be a catalyst for a long-term psychological boost.”
According to Rhoden, “This isn’t about patriotism, but about continuing the push to keep this important giant [Africa] on the right track.”
The provider of “All the News That’s Fit to Print” is not the only organ of the left taking glee in the prospect of misfortune for the U.S. World Cup team. Dave Zirin, sports editor for the Nation magazine and author of “A People’s History of Sports in the United States,” accuses conservative commentators and soccer skeptics Glenn Beck and G. Gordon Liddy of using “sports as avatar for their racism and imperial arrogance.”
Writing earlier this month, Zirin also suggested that soccer kicks the claim of American exceptionalism. “When it comes to the World Cup, the exceptional is found elsewhere,” he wrote, adding that if the U.S. did become contender to win it all, “It would be high comedy to see Beck and Friends caught in a vice between their patriotic fervor and their nativist fear.”
On the Atlantic magazine’s website, sportswriter and social commentator Bethlehem Shoals described soccer’s anti-American dimension, claiming that the sport is “not just about differentiating one’s self from mainstream American culture, but being freed up from national identity altogether.”
According to Shoals, whose writing has appeared in Sports Illustrated and the Nation, “America sees soccer as a refuge from its own shameful government actions.” And he adds that “It’s no coincidence that soccer gained added cachet during the Bush years.”
But unlike Rhoden, Shoals has a favorable view of rooting for the U.S. to win the World Cup. Far from jingoistic, backing the U.S. team amounts to “proposing a different kind of America – maybe even a different kind of world. In the World Cup, it’s the one national rooting interest that, by virtue of the sport’s place in America, is inherently progressive. It’s one of the few forms of patriotism that doesn’t pose problems.”
Still, professional soccer continues not to take off with those living in the birthplace of baseball, basketball and football, regardless of their political stripe. As Beck has noted, “it doesn’t matter how you try to sell it to us … we don’t want the World Cup; we don’t like the World Cup; we don’t like soccer; we want nothing to do with it.”
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