Today, the most significant story in sports will come out of Princeton, NJ, though the sports talk wing of right-wing talk radio will work hard to ignore it. The United States Men’s National Team will gather for the first day of practice in advance of the World Cup. The Mundial is by far the world’s greatest and most popular sports event, despite one “lite” beer commercial repeatedly assuring its empty-calorie-swilling fans that gridiron throwball is “the world’s most popular sport”. Simply repeating it during the numerous stops in action of an NFL punt-a-thon doesn’t make it so, and the World Cup would dwarf a month of Super Bowls.
The young, speedy American team probably lacks the experience and subtlety needed to go far in the Cup, but the event is significant to Americans in more ways than that. It’s being held in South Africa this year, and many would like to see Barack Obama pay a visit (though not the hard pressed South African police).
The symbolic value of this would be hard to miss- except on sports yell radio. The first black President of the U.S. visiting the one country whose record on race is as dark, yet as potentially redemptive, as ours. Throw in the Obama administration’s work to repair the damage done to the USA’s image by the single-mindedly unilateral Bushies, and the fact that Africa is a continent that could really use a bit of good news, and you can see that football isn’t popular just because it’s exciting to watch. It really does have the power to bring diverse peoples together, and to inspire hope and change.
But of course, that’s another story you won’t find on American sports pages. They get right on those soccer riots, though.