Luis Suarez and his hyperactive incisors have brilliantly stolen the World Cup away from the World Cup, in a way that excellent matches and incandescent moments have not. Indeed, The World’s Most Interactive Overbite has provided a greater shame than even match-fixing, profligate spending and corporate corruption scandals.
At least that’s the logic we are being assaulted with today by the dumbest segment of the American soccer punditocracy. The segment that incessantly asks, “How will this affect the game?” or its vicious little cousin, “How will this affect the game in America?”
Well, here’s your two-part answer. Not at all, and why do you care?
The worst part of being a soccer fan in America has evolved over time, but now, in the time of its most glorious triumph, the sticking point is the idea that fans and analysts are somehow part of the business, and as such responsible for “growing the game” and “defending its brand.”
And I would ask simply, “Why? Why can’t the game defend itself, and if you enjoy it, why does its brand matter to you? Even if its audience never grows by a single person, why is that your problem to endure? Why do you have to convince others to like the sport? Isn’t the fact that you like it enough for you?”
This is not a question unique to soccer. You see media people in the football, baseball, basketball, hockey, golf, tennis and college sports dodges that constantly worry about the sport they cover with a care and passion they don’t expend upon their own professions.
They care about their beats as professionals would, but they invariably get sucked into debates about brands and ratings and marketing and “how will this affect” questions, as though they would much rather work for the people they cover than the people who pay them.
That results in regular fans asking the same questions, as though their true job is not to enjoy the sport they are watching, but to care for the sport’s image and dignity as well.
Well, our position is that the sport’s image and business future are the problems of the people who run the sport, not of the people who support it. And in the case of soccer, wondering what Luis Suarez will do to the sport as a result of his felonious appetite is a silly concept.
Put simply, soccer fans are not going to leave their interest because of this; hell, they don’t leave the sport knowing that FIFA is a money-eating bazaar of the ethics-resistant. Luis Suarez is an amusing blip, and he will pay for amusing us in his chosen idiom so persistently.
Moreover, people who don’t like soccer aren’t going to like it less because of Suarez. They don’t like soccer, period, and they get to not like it for whatever narrow-minded or well-considered reason they want. It’s that it’s foreign (though baseball has 30 percent Latins), or that there’s not enough scoring (again, baseball), or it’s sissified (as though football and its CTE issue is somehow more noble), or it’s too nationalistic (the Olympics), or that there’s flopping (the NBA is there now too) or that the officiating is dodgy (name your sport on this).
Whatever the reason, they don’t like it, and that is their right as citizens of the world. Just as it is yours to enjoy it as you see fit.
So stop worrying about the non-believers or the people trying to profit off the growth of the game, is my advice to you. It isn’t your concern how the sport can expand its brand as long as you can get to it easily. Suarez is an embarrassment, but there are 735 players in the World Cup who haven’t bitten anyone. Suarez is just a ravenous outlier -- a great player with a spectacular flaw that will destroy him. The game goes on, and you will get to watch as much or as little of it as you wish, Luis Suarez or no Luis Suarez.
And the game’s growth isn’t your problem, any more than the success of Major League Soccer is your problem. Soccer fans used to lecture people on why they don’t like soccer more, and the people they lectured wanted to beat them with pool cues. And now that soccer fans have figured to let the game come to people on its own without the naggy, whiny proselytizing, getting back to the old eat-your-vegetables days is a bad idea.
In other words, MLS is MLS’ problem, not yours. Soccer fandom in America is no problem at all, because you’ve made up your mind already to enjoy or not enjoy it, and you get to do that, hopefully without the scorn of the unwashed.
And Luis Suarez -- well, his self-destruction is another matter entirely. Now that, in the world of instant judgment in which we live, is entertainment for the entire world family.