No period on the American soccer calendar offers up more ridiculous content, awful opinions, and pure fuckery than the week before a game between the United States and Mexico. Fans, writers, players, and pundits all spend the week scrambling to get the hottest possible take out into the world. It’s as if the entire country magically transforms into one big Facebook comments section for seven days.
It’s an entertaining time if you’re into listening to and reading people be uncommonly shitty, which is why I love it all, in a way that’s probably unhealthy.
It would take a full week to collect and analyze every dumb U.S. vs. Mexico thought that people have publicly expressed this week. Sadly, there’s not enough time or money to make that happen. But sometimes something so singularly frustrating happens, that it has to be explored.
This morning—in response to a now infamous ad from Azteca, a Mexican TV network—Fox Soccer released a promo for its Saturday night CONCACAF Cup coverage. Here’s the Azteca clip from September:
And here’s Fox:
Donald Trump, it seems, is now synonymous with American patriotism.
Predictably, #SoccerTwitter couldn’t wait to start criticizing Fox for its use of Trump footage to promote the game. The Huffington Post, Paste, the NY Times, and any website that has ever mentioned soccer has already published stories reporting on the backlash. Trump, they claim, is not a proper representation of American soccer’s values and beliefs.
Yet there is no formal fan constitution or list of commandments stating the core tenants of U.S. fandom. So it’s a bit disingenuous to reflexively claim that Trump and his bravado don’t represent American values because, in many ways, they absolutely do.
Trump’s very real popularity is currently one of this country’s most uncomfortable truths. It’s a truth that left-wing America dismisses and mocks, pretending that his support is just a passing fad or elaborate hoax. But no amount of dismissal and mockery will make Trump’s existence disappear.
In many ways, the Trump character would feel right at home among American soccer fans, where at every national team game, without fail, you’ll find someone dressed as a founding father or some generic colonial figure. Brash, borderline reckless patriotism is always on the menu at U.S. national team games.
Part of the Azteca ad’s brilliance was in how it showed Americans an image of themselves that isn’t self-styled. This is what you look and sound like from over here. It was confrontational, clever, and put Americans in a disturbingly unfamiliar role simply by holding up a mirror and making us look at ourselves for once. The reflection wasn’t very pretty.
It was also a shock to American sensibilities because the United States is rarely portrayed as the villain in any of our dramas—on or off a soccer field. But it really shouldn’t be too shocking to recognize that the rest of the world could hear Donald Trump speak, and then nod to each other and say, “Yup. That’s America, right there.” But for many, that notion is almost unfathomable.
Fox Soccer’s forced rebuttal accomplished none of the nuance displayed in the Azteca promo. And it’s not as if they didn’t have time to think about it, considering they warned us that this ad was coming a month ago. “You’ve gotta hand it to TV Azteca. Sure, Trump is an easy target, but we’d probably do the exact same thing in their position,” Fox’s Soccer’s Thomas Hautmann wrote in early September, when Azteca’s original Trump promo debuted.
None of this is to say that Donald Trump and his hate-speech is representative of all Americans, or even a majority of them. But the fact that he is currently the front-runner for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination means there are people who not only agree with his opinions, but genuinely want to see him ascend to the nation’s highest office. However you choose to dissect primary poll numbers, Trump’s supporters, while a minority, still number in the millions.
Too many offended U.S. Soccer fans fail to realize that while Donald Trump may not represent them individually, he absolutely speaks for hundreds of the people who will be singing along to the “Star-Spangled Banner” Saturday night at the Rose Bowl. Not everyone who over-pays Nike, complains about Jurgen Klinsmann, joins the American Outlaws, drinks, sings, and screams for the U.S. drives a hybrid with a faded “Obama ’08” sticker on the bumper. The U.S. fan base, collectively, many not choose to acknowledge this—just like many refuse to acknowledge Trump—but that doesn’t make it any less true.
The anger toward Fox Soccer is misplaced. None of the furious tweeting would have happened had the ad featured Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. Some may have have noted that a Hillary or Bernie ad would be a little odd, but there certainly wouldn’t have been Trump-level outrage. If U.S. national team fans want to be angry, be angry that Trump may just be the loudest non-elected political voice in America, not that Fox—a traditionally conservative-leaning network—put him in a commercial.
It is absolutely right, just, and wonderful to loudly speak out against Trump if you believe him to be bad for America, but do so with the knowledge that his frequently racist, xenophobic, sexist, elitist views will be shared by someone near you wherever you gather to watch the United States play Mexico tomorrow night. If you’re unlucky enough to hear such expressions, hopefully you’re just as furious as you are at Fox Soccer for its Trump ad.