Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Opinion

How to expand your worldview

Donald Trump may be the "America First" president, but his youngest son is a rather worldly sports fan. Barron, 12, has been spotted wearing a full Arsenal kit, making him a boy of impeccable taste, if somewhat dashed hopes. It’s been a rough couple of years for the London-based soccer club in England’s Premier League, a team that prides itself on artistically pleasing, if not always efficient, play.

Barron is not alone. His is the first generation of American fans to be truly connected to the international game, not just as players but increasingly as followers. This fall of the sports iron curtain, drawing American kids (and their parents) into a globalized sports culture, is a powerful attitudinal antidote to the backlash against globalization in our politics. At a time when so many cultural and political forces are urging us to shrink our worldview, sports are expanding it.

For Americans, the nation’s sports isolationism, much like our defiant refusal to go metric, has historically served to strengthen American exceptionalism. Kids everywhere learn geography through sports. But when their entire sports universe is defined by domestic events, fans see far fewer dots on the map and discount what lies beyond. How sadly isolationist to call the championship of a domestic league a "World Series." How defiantly isolationist to appropriate the name of the planet’s most popular sport for an entirely different game that isn’t played anywhere else and doesn’t involve your feet that much. Americans in the past couldn’t talk sports with foreigners, a parochialism that always struck me as awkward for people studying or conducting business abroad.

Sports aren’t everything, of course, and there are plenty of other ways to learn about your place in the world and to connect with people elsewhere. But Americans’ historic absence from this important slice of global life has been especially jarring, given how we shape other strands of pop culture.

But in contrast to previous generations, American kids Barron’s age won’t be left out of those conversations. I have a 13-year-old son, and I am astonished by how plugged-in his friends are to global sports. So many of them play soccer, and even if they don’t obsessively follow the Premier League or La Liga, they play the EA Sports FIFA video game and follow the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi on Instagram. They’ll watch some of the World Cup.

America is becoming a soccer power, but we are far from dominant, and this year fans must experience the healthy heartache of the world’s most popular sporting event taking place without the United States, after our national team’s surprising failure to qualify last fall. It’s not always about us.

Think about how subversive all this is to traditional "We’re No. 1" American entitlement and to "America First" isolationism, and the historic suspicion of soccer in some quarters becomes more understandable. Better for Fortress America to play its own games and proclaim its winners "world champions," lest we end up with a fifth column of rootless cosmopolitans.

But that column exists, and every year it grows more robust — a salutary counterweight to so many trends pulling us inward and backward. Globalization, both as an economic fact and as a mindset, is on the retreat everywhere, rolled back by the appeal of nostalgic, populist nationalism. Yet sports continue to globalize, expanding people’s connectivity and understanding across borders.

Sports belie the worsening of U.S.-Mexico relations triggered by Trump’s visceral hostility toward our southern neighbor. Pro football, baseball and basketball teams are all planning to play more games in Mexico and expand their fan bases in that country. And while NAFTA is in peril because of the Trump administration’s animus toward trade, FIFA is poised to award the 2026 World Cup to a joint United States-Mexico-Canada bid. Meanwhile, the U.S.-Mexico soccer rivalry that had grown so heated when relations between the two countries were friendly has become an arena to express cross-border solidarity: Days after Trump’s election, players from both teams posed together for a photo during the pre-match rituals, an unusual move.

It’s unlikely that the rise of soccer and the decline of sports isolationism in this country will vanquish xenophobia and American exceptionalism in the near future. But hard as it is to quantify, I know it will make a big difference in Americans’ worldview, especially as this generation of kids gets older.

In the meantime, we have a "Make America Great Again" president who disdains the rest of the world and whose biggest sports preoccupation is whether NFL players kneel during the national anthem. But I’d like to think that his son’s mind is far, far away, wondering, as mine is, whether new coach Unai Emery will make Arsenal great again.

— Special to the Washington Post

Martinez, a professor of journalism at Arizona State, is writing a book on the globalization of sports.

With their pitching decimated by injuries, the Tampa Bay Rays have signed Buccaneers quarterback and former Florida State mound ace Jameis Winston, who will join their starting rotation "as soon as possible," the team announced.

"I watched him throw during the NFL season and was extremely impressed by his arm strength and velocity," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "I figured that if he can be as on target as he is 30 or 40 yards downfield he’ll be deadly from 60 feet, 6 inches."

With injuries to several starters, including ace Chris Archer, the Rays have been using relief pitchers to start games, which has weakened their bullpen, prompting what appears to some to be a desperation move.

But Winston said he was ready to take on the challenge of starting for the Rays after one "warm-up" game with the Triple-A Durham Bulls. He said he’ll return to the Bucs in time for their final preseason game, Aug. 30 against Jacksonville.

"It’s not like I haven’t done this before," said Winston, whose fastball was clocked in the 95-96 mph range at FSU, and who was drafted by the Texas Rangers in 2012 but opted for college. "I have experience throwing to guys on the team," said Winton, who had xx interceptions in 2017. "Besides, it’ll be great for me to be able to throw a ball without the other team trying to tear my head off."

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