June 10, 2006

It Happens Every Time

I’m a soccer fan, but I don’t devote much time to following sports. And, frankly, following soccer – well, let’s just call it football, shall we? – in this country isn’t really cost-effective. So, I mostly reserve my sports watching time for a quadrennial immersion in the World Cup.

One of the frustrations of preparing for this event is the poor quality of the coverage of the sport available in my usual media, which are newspapers and radio. There’s one particular sore point: the obligatory “I don’t like or understand soccer, but I have to write something about the World Cup (it is, after all, the biggest sporting event in the world this year), so I’ll just write about how I don’t like or understand soccer and my editor will print it, just as it is” story.

It happens every time. It annoys me out of all proportion to the magnitude of the crime, I know. Still, the aggressive and stubborn ignorance – this from a professional observer of sport – just ticks me off. It seems just too American, if I may risk saying it. The sport wasn’t invented here, so it’s just out of tune with the “American character” (whatever that is). Blah, blah, blah.

I don’t understand why the writers can’t just do their jobs, which is to learn about things and tell us about them. (Now that I write those words, I realize how utopian they sound, considering the kinds of reporting we have received about rather more important issues over the last few years.)

This year, I was lulled into a false sense of security, because I’d gotten all the way to opening day of the tournament without seeing one of those articles. Then, I got the one-two punch.

The first was the weekly talk on KPLU with their sports writer, Art Thiel. Now, Mr. Thiel is entitled to his opinion, but still, this was an “I don’t like or understand soccer…” story, without a doubt. So, KPLU will do one story on the World Cup and this is it? This is the most important thing about the World Cup, that Art Theil doesn’t like soccer because the players can’t use their hands, so the action isn’t as precise as it is in other sports? Good grief.

So, that got me straightened up and ready for the second punch, supplied, as is traditional, by the Olympian. In the past, this paper has been a reliable purveyor of this kind of nonsense, but I was beginning to think that they’d moved on. Not so. This was actually the lamest of these kinds of stories that I’d ever read. The writer spent her refined product of clear-cut forest on wandering around town trying to find (or trying to not-find) someone who was interested in the World Cup. This, in answer to her self-asked question: “Why people care to watch the World Cup.” She finishes the story practically boasting of her ignorance of the game and the players.

Fortunately, there are some media outlets who don’t take their responsibility to know nothing more than the conventional and to learn nothing beyond that and, certainly, never, ever try to inform us about anything foreign. One of those is the fine blogging of the World Cup by a couple of writers for the New York Times.

For the games themselves, I thank the Tivo I cleverly bought my wife for Christmas.

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