I freely confess that I know jack shit about sports. I went to one football game, ever, in my college career at one of the hugest schools in the Big 12 (which I had to google, because after four years I couldn’t remember what number comes after “Big”). I left early because I had a good book waiting at home. I played sports briefly as a kid – basketball, baseball, soccer – but I was never terribly good at any of them, and while I didn’t hate them, I never begged to go back when the season ended. I just didn’t care. I like watching sports okay, sometimes, and I have wonderful fond memories of going to ball games with my dad and playing baseball in the park, but they’ve just never been a deeply meaningful part of my life. I didn’t grow up in sports culture.

But God, God, do I love the World Cup.

Look– I’m a fair-weather soccer fan. I don’t really give a fuck at any other time. I’ll admit that freely. But you know what, you know what, a solid 60% of the people in the world watching the World Cup religiously also don’t give a fuck about soccer at any other time. Yeah, soccer’s the biggest sport in the vast majority of the participating countries, but having lived in one of the most soccer-insane countries in the world for a year, I say with confidence that I was not unusual in not knowing or caring about the majority of the soccer that was happening around me. Most people are me, or kind of like me – we know enough about the game to make the matches easy to follow, and because we are all in this together, we can get away with sneaking guiltily into sports culture in a way we usually can’t.

That’s a gift, because there are things about sports culture that are really, really beautiful. It is hella nice to be able to sit down in a bar full of strangers and people I like, and to leap to our feet and bellow in unison about something we have nothing to do with. It’s wonderful to look at everybody wearing the same shirt as you and feeling like there are people on your side, even though you know you don’t know them and you know you don’t actually mind the people wearing different shirts from you. It’s fun to sit crouched over two smartphones, scrolling through little lists of numbers and saying things like “–but if they win one and draw the second then they might get out of the group in first, still, especially if they make it out of this one with at least one over the other–“. It’s fun to sit on a train sharing a pair of earbuds and bury your face in your girlfriend’s shoulder when Christiano Ronaldo scores a point on your team in the last twenty seconds of a match that shOULD HAVE BEEN WON, IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN IN THE BAG, WHY, WHY WAS THIS ALLOWED TO HAPPEN, WHY DO WE TRUST YOU PEOPLE WITH A FOOTBALL IN THE FIRST PLACE WHEN YOU’RE ONLY GOING TO

–it’s fun to get excited and emotional about something that doesn’t matter at all. It’s glorious to get that out of watching real people do something that means a lot to them – it’s different from a fiction-induced thrill, because, well, the vicarious joy feels a little nearer. Watching Miroslav Klose front-flip down the field after scoring on Ghana in a game that took years off my life, or John Brooks collapse on the field in a pile of teammates after… also scoring on Ghana in a game that took years off my life (I should add in fairness that Ghana was one of the most wonderful teams to watch play in both instances) is thrilling in a way that I think sports is to people who know more about it more of the time. It’s a good thing. It’s fun to be involved in something that so much of humanity is also so involved in. It’s fun to play this great big beautiful game of pretend with the whole world.



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