Tuesday, July 11, 2006

We Are All Soccer Moms Now

by Bernie Quigley for The Free Market News Network, 7/15/06

The last time the Italians won the World Cup for soccer I was living in Bensonhurst; the Brooklyn neighborhood where Goodfellas was filmed. When I got off the subway from Manhattan it looked like VJ day in the neighborhood, which was exclusively Italian except for myself and the two Koreans who ran the grocery store. Bensonhurst still had strong links to the old country and every eye was on the World Cup.

That was the first I ever heard of it. There was no suggestion of interest in the World Cup on the subway or in Manhattan. Or anywhere else in North America for that matter. 24 years later interest is immense and even my local paper here in the mountains gave the Italian victory a front-page picture as large as that of Big Papi and the gang when they won the Pennant a few years back. That’s because a lot of new groups have come to the United States since 1982, including Latinos and Central Europeans, from countries where soccer is very popular. They have brought their enthusiasm for the sport with them.

Then there is something else. Soccer Moms. Soccer Moms was a political constituency discovered by pollsters and pundits during the last Presidential elections. “Soccer Moms,” they would say. “That is the critical vote you’ve got to get.” I never understood why the Soccer Mom vote was so crucial and so sought after compared to say the African-American vote or the NASCAR Mom vote or the Bensenhurst Italian-American vote. And it seemed in the last two elections that the Soccer Mom constituency’s candidate lost pitifully against another so weak and incompetent that he is considered by many political historians to be the worst President ever. Maybe all the CNN commentators and Fox pollsters who herd the hordes over the cliff are Soccer Moms.

But Soccer Moms are different than Bensonhurst Italians or African-Americans or Southie Irish like myself. Bensonhurst Italians and African-Americans know who they are; they know where they came from and they know where they are going. Soccer Moms seem to be something which started as a concept and then looked for a bunch of people to occupy the concept and then maybe even get some candidate elected to political office. Then they would be real people. Like the homunculus, Pinocchio, Soccer Moms started first as an idea which sought to be a real child. Maybe they are looking for the First Soccer Mom President. But she’s not there yet. And she never will be. It is an illusion.

But what a culture clash occurred in the last minutes of the World Cup. What a gleeful, joyful and even giddy vision of world harmony and peace had been going on; a picture of people from all lands sharing and caring in a Paul McCartney kind of vision of world play. Soccer Moms have bumper stickers on their cars which read “Intelligent men play soccer.” Wow. Thanks for sharing. No, there will never be a Soccer Mom President.

Intelligence is part of the Soccer Mom concept/homunculus. That great Soccer Mom paper of record, The New York Times, was way on board this time and published an op-ed on the World Cup by a guy who wrote a book for the “intelligent” person’s guide to soccer. I guess he didn’t want just some chump from Detroit or South Philly reading it who hadn’t yet completed his Ph.D. Or the British thugs and goons who beat to death their opposing fans in a soccer match in Europe a few years back in riots worse than those at Watts or Detroit which left 80 dead; bludgeoned with clubs, bottles and knives, similar tools of contention as those in the slaughter at Rwanda.

That the United States lost to Ghana made no difference. It makes it better! It’s all part of the Wonderfulness! In the techno-suburb of the Soccer Mom everyone gets a trophy.

What is fairly spooky about this that it all disassembled as fast as a schizophrenic on an on-line forum when the great French player, Zinedine Zidane, in the last minutes of play bonked Italian Marco Materazzi in the chest with his head. In terror, Soccer Moms of the World fled across the bridge in the opposite direction (“The Horror! The Horror!”)

France Asks ‘Why?’ – Nation Stunned at Star’s Violent Exit,” read one of the headlines in our local paper. Even in France, Sports Minister Jean-Francois Lamour called Zidane’s act “unpardonable.”

Unpardonable? Villeneuve’s loss to Nelson at Trafalgar was unpardonable. Pierre Laval’s bow to Vichy was unpardonable. But anyone lucky enough to live far enough north to be able to watch Don Cherry Saturday night after Saturday night and year after year on the CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada knows what happened. Hockey Moms know what happened. The Italian player appeared to take a dive.

This is something which crept into international hockey a few years back, and Don Cherry, a former hockey coach turned commentator and a kind of Canadian Uncle Sam, railed against it week after week. In a sport in which there is a lot of physical contact, when a player checks another and that player feigns injury, it is a dive. The team feigning injured gets an opportunity to score if they can convince the referee that an actual foul took place. In hockey, it has fairly disappeared in recent days, because it is easy to spot when you are looking for it.

The Italian team won by an extra point shoot out. When I saw the clip it was with hockey eyes. The first thing that registered was: dive. I expect that many Canadian hockey fans who saw the head butt felt the same thing. But the glassy-eyed, hands-across-the-waters world press, pitching this event broadly, not so much to soccer fans as to fans of Beck and his Spice Girl wife, charmed by the mother-daughter vision in Bend it Like Beckham, was shattered. All of the accounts of the World Cup asked the same question: Why? Why?

Here in the local press, there was only one mention well into an article by an actual sports columnist of comments by the French coach Raymond Domenech.

“But it’s a shame. It’s sad. He (Materazzi) did a lot of acting and for such a big man, a gust of wind made him fall over. It’s regrettable.”

It is all part of the Homunculus Theater which is Soccer Mom, trying to become a real person. And it is the part of this phenomenon as it bleeds and projects into politics which continually sends the most incompetent charlatans, hustlers, weenies or their wives to run for President as if it were an American Idol contest. If it continues, it will destroy the country.

But I have seen the future and it is beautiful: Hockey Moms.

My family and I first discovered this when we took the snow train to the end of the line in northern Ontario in the dead of winter to a terrific little French-speaking town called Hearst, where there is nothing to do but play hockey. We stayed in a little bed and breakfast and an elderly gentleman who had come to watch his grandson in a hockey competition kindly invited us to attend with his whole family. It was a great little event, with a moose head on the wall of the school gymnasium blowing smoke out of its nose every time a goal was scored. The players were the best from across Canada for 11-year-olds. To us, new to the sport, they all appeared to play as well as the Great One.

Somewhere in the middle of the game one of the children fell to the ice and laid there holding his ear. No one moved to help him. My wife got concerned but the old man told her to wait. The referee skated around the boy, but no one touched him or moved to help him. After maybe two minutes – which seemed like a lifetime to my wife and myself – the boy got up by himself, brushed himself off and rejoined the game. This is the Canadian ethic which pervades the national sport of hockey. It is an ethic of fair play, no whining, endurance and perseverance. It is the North American legacy of Lord Nelson and will be perhaps, Victoria’s enduring legacy to our continent. It is based on duty and a sense of community rather than a sense of personal happiness and individualism. In North America, it is virtually the opposite of the Soccer Mom’s leisure-class ethic.

It brings to Canadians a social conscience and commitment which was best expressed when Hayley Wickenheiser led the Canadian woman’s hockey team to gold victory in the 2002 Winter Olympics, and head coach Daniele Sauvageau gathered her team around her for a final good bye. Huddled in a circle she gave them three words to bring with them to the world: “Responsibility, Determination and Courage.”

I hope it trinkles southward. And now that Raleigh, North Carolina, is the current holder of the Stanley Cup, there is evidence that it will.

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Frances said...

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