The feral soccer culture in England has grown so accustomed to this kind of extracurricular action that it has created the acronym WAGS—as in "wives and girlfriends"—to follow the play-by-play. When Victoria Beckham and her peers descended on the 2006 World Cup in Germany in their Prada heels, skintight jeans, and fake tans, they shopped and partied with a ferocity unmatched on the field by their underachieving men. "We became a bit of a circus," admitted defender Rio Ferdinand. "Football almost became a secondary element to the main event."
Not so long ago, Americans ranked the sport of soccer somewhere between field hockey and the LPGA—though not nearly as manly. No sooner had FIFA awarded the United States the honor of holding the 1994 World Cup than Buffalo Bills quarterback turned politician Jack Kemp took to the floor of Congress to remind Americans "that football is democratic capitalism, whereas soccer is a European socialist [sport]."
Now, 30 years after Pelé descended godlike from the soccer heavens to spread the gospel of the game on American soil, ESPN is moving operations to South Africa to broadcast every match live in HD—some even in 3D. This is not to say that soccer holds as hallowed a place in the American sports psyche as football, baseball, basketball, or even Nascar. But there's no doubt that the sport has taken the zeitgeist and, like Beckham, bent it toward its ultimate goal: being chic in the eyes of Americans.
So go ahead and embrace the World Cup. You may still run the risk of being perceived as one of Jack Kemp's "European socialists," but you'll be a cool one. You know, like Barack Obama, a longtime West Ham fan and the father of two soccer-playing girls. He has a pretty good team in this year's tournament—they wear red, white, and blue.
David Hirshey and Roger Bennett are the authors of The ESPN World Cup Companion, available wherever books are sold.Read More:
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