A couple of years ago, we went to see two Premiere League teams (that's Britain's top soccer league) play in Ann Arbor, at what we Michiganders refer to as the Big House (either affectionately or with venom, depending on whether you are a UofM fan or a State fan.) I've never been to an American football game there, and we went with friends, a dad and daughter. We had a great time.
One of the best parts of the experience for me was sitting with people of every race and creed who were just having a blast watching their favorites teams. Everyone was kind and friendly, joking with each other about the players. Small children were given a bit of leeway in close quarters and a few elderly fans were given gentle patience.
We just went to the same exhibition game yesterday, although one of the teams was different. The whole experience was a vast contrast for me though. People were rather cruel.
One man behind me joked to his buddy that "those idiots" (one of the team sponsors) didn't know how to spell "tyres," apparently unaware that English has variations in other parts of the world.
We were sitting quite close to the tunnel where the players from one team entered and exited the field. People in the stands literally trampled each other to get to the railings so they could snap photos and maybe get an autograph. An older lady was getting hurt. When her family members asked the man who was getting very close to her to please be careful, he turned on them: "F*^% you! I paid for my f*&^$(* tickets and I'm gonna get a picture..." You get the idea.
People moved from seat to seat, trying to get closer and closer to the field, only to be asked to moved by stadium workers, who politely told them they needed to sit in the seat they had purchased. They had nothing but contempt for this "request." The same went for the young men who moved to sit on the steps rather than their seats. They would move, just until the worker was out of sight, and back they'd go.
One man, for whom English was not his first language, was befuddled by the seating: section, row, seat. He and his two young sons couldn't find what section they were to be in. A man behind me not-so-quietly scorned the family, because he just "knew," they weren't American.
And we had the game interrupted three times by "well-lubricated" men with the maturity of 9 year olds who decided (at different times) that they would make their mark in the world by delaying the play of some of the elite athletes of the world, so they could run around for 30 seconds until they got some pretty metal bracelets and a trip in a police car. The teen by behind us was incredulous (at least he still had some sense of outrage within him) that these guys got arrested. "They're getting arrested?? What for??" I told him that their would probably be a host of charges, all with hefty fines and at least the night in jail. He asked me, "What did that one guy have written on his chest?" Really?
I don't know why the experience was so different two years ago than today. People were uglier and angrier. To me, it seems as if the whole experience was a reflection of our culture and society right now. We are an angry people. Sometimes we are angry about an injustice, other times we are angry that there MIGHT be an injustice and damn it, we are going to cut it off before it starts. We don't need to show respect to anyone, because, hey: who the hell is respecting ME? You don't like me stepping on your toes (either literally or figuratively)? Get the hell out of my way!
I saw virtually no kindness yesterday, except on the pitch. The players were respectful of each other, even in the heat of play.
Soccer is probably the most universal sport. It is played on dusty patches of earth in Africa by barefoot kids, on luxuriously groomed fields at wealthy schools, at club pitches where 5 year olds play on Monday, 10 year olds on Thursday and Mexican workers on Sunday afternoons. It is a sport that requires very little equipment: a goal, a ball. In many parts of the world one learns to play without boots and shin guards; they are a luxury. The Scots are passionate, the Mexicans mad for it, and men like David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo are spoken of in voices reserved for the gods who walk among us.
Our world is in a shambles. I don't generally see it as up close and ugly as I did yesterday. It was frightening - one could see how mob-mentality could sweep across so many people at once. I realize some people take their sports very seriously, but yesterday's experience went far beyond that. The whole atmosphere around me felt like "I'm here to get mine. I don't give a rat's ass what your experience here is like."
Sports, like music, have long been a venue where the world comes together. Yes, we root for our team, our school, our nation, but we also strike up a conversation with the folks next to us and commiserate about how badly a player is hurt or the officials aren't making good calls. Sports, and especially soccer because of its global appeal, are supposed to bring us closer together. What I experienced yesterday was an ugly reflection in our cultural mirror. And the longer I looked at it, the more sad and upset I became. I don't expect the months between now and the election to be any better, either in the political arena or anywhere else in the public square.