For three glorious weeks, we are soccer fans. We read up on our squad, learn the strengths and weakness of the teams in our pool, and even watch a human interest story or two on an American footballer. And yet, when the lights fade on Brazil and the competition comes to a close, I suspect most of that spectating excitement will lapse into dormancy until the next World Cup or summer Olympics. Confronted by the facts of our inconstancy, should we blush, or is it just natural that some sporting spectacles manage to capture our attention only so briefly?
I don’t think we need be embarrassed in the least, precisely because many of us are not soccer fans. We’re simply patriots, and prominent international sporting events give occasion for the performance of patriotism. They provide the space for our love of country to assume a shape, a voice, and a painted chest. Despite a growing disaffection for America among conservatives, there remains for many a deeply felt devotion for their homeland, their patria. Though incursions on religious liberty and coordinated efforts to reshape public consensus regarding human sexuality may have cooled our passion, there remains the fact that we are the beneficiaries of the American experiment. As a people, we enjoy a rich and abundant participation in the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness to which the founders were committed. For this we are thankful. For this were are indebted.
We love this country because it is ours. Like a mother loves her child, or perhaps more aptly, as a child loves his aging mother, so do we love our country. Regardless of how good its chances are, we hope against hope that the country that we cherish may be recognized on the international stage to the tune of U-S-A! And so, when sporting spectacle hoists the flag with visible and visceral panache, who are we but to respond?
Patriotism seeks an outlet. Bikers wear American flag bandannas. Bono has the flag inside his jacket. Track athletes wear it as a cape. And yet, devoid as most of us are of access to a chopper, artistic talents, and athletic prowess, where do we find an outlet? One place is in vociferous support of our sports teams.
Though the beautiful game may not interest us as much as baseball or football, there’s no shame in loving it because it belongs to our country. When you love someone, it often happens that you love all that belongs to themfamily, friends, allegiances, and idiosyncrasies. So too of a country: Because we love the country, we love its teams. Would it be better to follow our team’s players through the intervening years rather than forsake them for all but three weeks every four years? Perhaps. But amidst accusations of summer soldiery and fair-weather fanfare, we need not blush for past omission. This is our team too, and they represent our country. And for that reason, we love them.
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