Mexican-Americans breathe football in a way most other Americans, even those who play the sport, do not.
I once saw the farmworker camp team play a private club team full of predominantly white, affluent, college-bound kids; the children of vegetable-buyers, not vegetable-pickers.
The French existentialist Albert Camus once wrote, “Everything I know about morality and the obligations of men, I owe to football.” This is the quote I fall back upon when I want to appear intellectual in my justification for how madly infatuated I am with football (please note: I shall refer to the sport played with one’s feet as football for the duration of this article—because it makes sense).
I often feel the need to explain myself to those who wonder why the one goal produced in an otherwise uneventful 90 minutes can have me celebrating, laughing, in tears on the top of a table, arms raised, yelling: “If you already understand why the world goes insane for the World Cup, then no words of mine are necessary.
The World Cup is a ritual World War, a cathartic ceremony of the old nationalisms made obsolete by our new globalized world.
Our teams carry all our hopes, hatreds and history with them.Despite enormous pools of untapped, largely Latino immigrant football talent and passion, youth football in the United States (sorry, soccer) remains, at the competitive level, the exclusive domain of wealthy suburbanites. Children from less affluent families get priced out and overlooked by scouts.The irony of all this is that in the United States, the world’s most diverse country, the world’s most popular sport has become an enclave of white affluence.The sport has triggered violent riots and even an all-out war between Honduras and El Salvador in 1969.Many an old-world hatred has found new life through the sport, complete with corporate sponsorship.Is it madness that two goals in 1986 should resonate politically for decades? What else can one expect from the only sport that is truly shared across the whole world?How could a competition pitting the avatars of nations against one another not be seen as a font of symbolism and greater meaning?In Buenos Aires the “Superclasico” pits the Boca Juniors, historically associated with Argentina’s Italian working-class immigrants, against River Plate, known as the team of the affluent, their fans “the millionaires.” Rome’s “Derby della Capitale,” infamous for spectator violence, sees AS Roma face off against SS Lazio, the latter team being notorious for its fascist-leaning supporter base. There are no comparably politicized rivalries in American sports, not even the Yankees versus the Red Sox.International football simply raises the stakes of football’s identity politics to the national level.The World Cup is a black hole, an eternal and incomprehensible force that draws everything toward it, that bends time itself and from which nothing can escape.If I succeed in infecting you, then perhaps you too will be found once every four years, jumping for joy, weeping in ecstasy or crushed by defeat. It is hard to overstate just how much football means to people around the world.