Badpuppy Gay Today

Monday, 13 April 1998


Or, Philosophy Takes a Ringside Seat in the Temple of the Ball Religion

By Jack Nichols


A soccer-player friend invited me Easter Sunday to witness his idea of an inspired afternoon. It was to be an amateur group meet, one that recurred from week to week in the neighborhood. Usually Sundays.

Anticipating the joy of observing this athlete in action, I tucked away all sports prejudices, those I'd carefully nurtured through the years and drove with him to the playing field, my mind as open to what I would see as were the sunlit azure skies.

Partly, I suppose, it was the deep south locale that sparked my spokes. My expectant friend told as we drove how he was looking forward to inhaling the scent of the grass on the field. It was newly cut.

Though he'd had scarcely any sleep the night before, he seemed maximally energized. The site was a community playing field at the side of a country road known among the locals as Tropical Trail.

Soccer had once been, I recalled, my favorite ball game prior to those teen years when I'd buried any genuine liking for any games, withdrawing homage to all team sports, period.

Yes, when neighborhood friends had callously abandoned soccer I'd reacted against American-style football, hating its regimentation, its heavy padding, and mostly—which later became a political viewpoint-- its focus on human body-slams as opposed, say, to a more humane focus as exists in soccer, namely kicking the ball instead.

There was something far less graceful about football, I'd always thought. And there's something of the fascistic in it too. Human bodies—Terminator Teams-- wrapped in football's thick leather pads seem scarcely able to flash the kind of elastic-ecstasy soccer players can signal as their bodies, in Zen-like spontaneity, leap and twist, pad-less except for lower-leg chin pads.

In the distance—out on the field—I saw, as we emerged from the car—my friend's friendly team mates. Real bodies. No phony pads. My Easter Epiphany began as I noted that these players came from every part of the globe. I sat atop an ice chest and leaned forward on my knees. A silly beatific smile crossed my face.

Here was I, after all, surrounded in the south by a truly international brigade, including, among my own countrymen, three black and three white Americans. One of the black youths, shapely and proud, wore a golden shirt that read "Together We Are ONE" And yes, the remainder of these players came from all the continents, hailing each other like long lost brothers from far afield.

There were South Americans, Europeans, North Americans, Middle Easterners, Southeast Asians and all---curiously—running in healthy ecstasy and jumping in well-directed passion. I say healthy and well-directed because the infectious camaraderie I was witnessing on this sunny Easter Sunday—even between opponents— well, it satisfied. There was nothing about it one could label phony.

Having seen so much less loving passion among men the night before as I caroused in an all-male nightclub, this open field where men danced skillfully around a ball succeeded in mesmerizing to a greater degree. These soccer guys respected each other, saluted each other, had a sense of community.

Their reaching out to each other with evident appreciation and warmth were reminders how American machismo, too often offered as an integral part of our TV sports diet, has yet much to learn.

I hadn't been lucky enough to see this kind of group-unity expressed in sports before. Watching product-stylized sports on TV screens and macho-boaster types spitting on the ground like Roseanne had once so ably mimicked and walking and acting "theatrically tough" just weren't doing it for me.

Sports? People can get too serious about them, sure. To me, the word "game" implies—or should imply-- that in the act of playing there'll be a happy release of pent up energies, not the creation of new hostilities among the competing teams.

My dad had been a professional ball player—baseball. Baseball seemed harmless enough. With dad's encouragement I excelled at age 8 in this particular game but it finally bored me. Too much repetitive structure. Too much waiting for something to happen. But I continued to respect soccer, nevertheless. I respect it because it utilizes human fluidity and rewards it with success.

Life is fluid too. If only, I sighed to myself, if only more human beings were able to move through life with the same fluid skill that these soccer players seem to know and with as little enmity during interactions with those beside them on the field.

The teams playing, it was easy to see, got to appreciate the particular talents of their individualistic co-players and to use those talents en route to the mutual makings of goals. But the cooperation between soccer players isn't in any way mandatory, no. Its based on unique circumstances and perfect whimsy, just as life is.

Soccer doesn't seem to rely on pre-conceived ideas about what players must do from play to play. The ball, like life itself, flies across the field and only an energetic readiness saves the day. I was witness—in my Easter epiphany –to the skill and the spunk it takes to go it alone, to hurry into the thick of action—daring boldly to innovate, to quickly re-route and confuse opponents – and to chance it—these are the things that count from day to day. My friend, jumping from side to side showed how it is necessary, even, to jump upside down to escape defeat.

Most people, I rediscovered sitting under soft white clouds and listening to the happy shouts of these soccer teams, seem too content to be told how to play each game. They like stodgy rules, I suppose. But even with its rules, there's a wonderful anarchy in soccer. Inherent in it is a spontaneous individuality that leaps to its best in assuring any team's victories.

In a world weary of worry—where money making has become the sole master of the field—it refreshes to discover another living field, a place in the backwoods where real people greet each other with genuine smiles.

There, Sunday, was played, I decided, a game that offers useful values to participants and audiences alike. Sidestepping society's fantastic farces and its media-hypes it felt good to remember that there's a sanely moving world, as soccer seems to celebrate, one that, hopefully, will move forward and tell itself in time.

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