- - Sunday, July 14, 2019


Professional soccer has been banging on the American consciousness for decades, trying to win recognition as the equal of baseball, football and basketball in the public eye. The media elites have tut-tutted and clucked their tongues, lamenting the reality that American sports fans have not embraced professional soccer in the way of the rest of the world.

American sports fans stubbornly prefer fast-moving, high-scoring sports, dismissing soccer, sometimes unkindly, as 90 minutes of slow-motion tedium, only once in a while interrupted by a score. By contrast, the action in hockey — soccer’s closest parallel in form, the object of the game being to dispatch an object past a goalie and into a net — is constant and swift.

Every four years, in the World Cup and the Summer Olympics, the U.S. teams compete on the world stage, prompting obligatory cheers of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” but otherwise most Americans don’t pay much heed to the “other” football. Few fans in flyover country can name even a single professional soccer team, or can identify a single star of the sport. After years of trying to break out as “the next big thing,” enthusiasm for the sport remains confined mostly to newcomers from other countries, where it’s far more popular, and mothers looking for a less violent game for their children.

But the way of building popular support for the sport is not the boorish behavior of some of the players of the U.S. women’s national team that has just won the World Cup.

The rudeness before and after its 2-0 victory over the Netherlands in Lyon, France, overshadowed genuine achievement, for which all Americans can take considerable pride, and cast a cloud over the honor of a ticker-tape parade through the canyons of Manhattan where generations of earlier heroes received homage.

The co-captain of the team, Megan Rapinoe, had said before the championship round that she and her teammates, who had not yet been invited, would not go to the White House to take the national tribute from President Trump. It’s not clear whether Miss Rapinoe speaks for all or only some of the 22 members of the team.

She calls herself a “walking protest,” of just what is not clear, and she scorned the singing of the national anthem by refusing to put a hand over her heart during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

President Trump ignored the affront, and gave a graceful salute. “Congratulations to the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team on winning the World Cup!” he tweeted (albeit with only one exclamation point instead of the usual cluster of them.) “Great and exciting play. America is proud of you all!” But the team will be coming to Washington after all. Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the leaders of the Democrats in Congress, invited the soccer squad to visit the Capitol and they quickly accepted.

Other presidents have been snubbed by ill-mannered athletes for one reason or another, usually to protest public-policy issues. It’s as American as apple pie, but shunning has become art from the street in the Trump era. The Philadelphia Eagles of the National Football League, winners of the Super Bowl, and the Golden State Warriors, champions of the National Basketball Association, rejected invitations to the White House before the invitations were tendered.

That kind of chest-thumping (or bosom-thumping) is petty and juvenile, and reflects having never been taught manners and sportsmanship. Celebrating excellence in sports was once apolitical. An invitation to the White House is recognition of excellence, and should be regarded as the honor and privilege that it is. Boorish behavior is no way to win the fans that professional soccer needs to become regarded as a national pastime.

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