I’ve watched some of the U.S. team’s play in the FIFA World Cup — luckily, some key moments, such as when the U.S. took the lead against Portugal, and when Portugal scored with seconds left in stoppage time. But I have to admit I have not been there for every kick and save. And I probably won’t be in front of my flat-screen when the team takes the field against Belgium. (Lovely country, by the way, even if it’s itching to splinter, as Matthew Yglesias, looking for reasons to hate a rival, argues for Vox.)
It’s not because I dislike soccer — sorry, “football.” I am not a keen fan, but I am not among the boors who think the country’s failure to embrace a sport beloved by the rest of the world is proof of American Exceptionalism.
No, I am unlikely to watch an entire televised match because the tension gets to me. I don’t enjoy biting my nails for a couple of hours in my living room. It’s different for both baseball and (American) football. Each has its rhythms of action and lull, and I can settle on the couch with a book or the Sunday Times and pay divided attention for the bulk of the game, leaning forward for key plays and replays. I love college basketball, but I hate watching televised games for the same reason. The action is constant, and even though scoring is decidedly more plentiful in basketball than it is in soccer, the viewer experience is similar — you can’t not watch, unless you don’t watch at all.
Note that I speak only of watching sports on TV. I have been to live games of all three sports and have enjoyed those experiences, even the tension of close matches. I am not sure what makes television different, especially when it is surely becoming the preferred method of enjoying the NFL. Although I grew up with television, I never absorbed the compulsion to watch it, especially for sports.
All of this reminds me that until television made itself indispensable to sports fans, and made sports the business it has become, most fans were content to wait until the morning paper to find out how their teams fared. Sure, some may have crouched next to radios to follow the Cardinals on KMOX, but it’s instructive to recall that for much of the 20th Century, Major League Baseball consisted of only 16 teams, the farthest west being St. Louis. Lifelong fans of teams or players may never have been able to see a live game, much less one televised. But they checked the box scores in the next day’s newspapers, and read the great sports writers’ accounts of games. Something of me clings to that mind-set.
Oh, I will probably tune in at some point for the Belgium match, but even if I don’t I know I can watch highlights later, on TV or online. And maybe I’ll just wait for morning paper.