Friday, June 6, 2014

Pardon the Imbecile (Pardon the Interruption)

Sam Borden recently published a piece in New York Times Magazine about Jurgen Klinsmann and the overarching narrative of the United State's Men's National Team heading into the 2014 World Cup and beyond. It is a thorough piece that, in all of the drama and anxiety leading up to Brazil, can help seasoned soccer fans regain some perspective. It's also detailed and balanced enough that it may help some of the more casual fans pick up where they left off back in 2010.

But wait- "Thorough? Detailed? Get to the chase, Ben. IS IT REALLY LONG?"

Yes, it's really long. So when Michael Wilbon, of ESPN's PTI (Pardon the Interruption) went on this alarmingly xenophobic rant about Klinsmann, the article's length more than likely contributed to the commentator's egregious disregard for context. Or maybe he was forced to disregard the context because that's exactly what he's paid to do, yell like a jackass.

Let me include here that I am completely and 100% biased against Pardon the Interruption. Many of you are probably only familiar with PTI as that show that is always on mute whenever there isn't an actual game (or anything else entertaining) on at the sports bar. If you ever thought "wow, those guys look like they're probably yammering fucking idiots," then you are right, and if I had any way of verifying your psychic prowess, I'd buy you a beer. PTI is a lot like CNN's Crossfire, in that it's a bunch of people arguing in talking points and contributing nothing to any kind of meaningful dialogue.

It's all about stirring shit up. If you're really into shit, then it's fine.

So to sum up the article in a nutshell (a tall task, so you should pat me on the back when I'm done), Jurgen Klinsmann was brought on as the USMNT manager to bring about a change in culture within the structure of US Soccer. Most managers are hired to do exactly that, wherever they're hired, but when I say "culture" I mean this in more than one sense of the word. If the United States wants to compete on the world's stage with European powerhouses, common sense would seem to dictate that the United States would benefit by emulating the Europeans in some ways. Not all ways, of course, but enough that it's going to take a coach who not only played for Germany, but managed them as well.

One of the most obvious ways in which these changes have manifested themselves is in the roster and lineup of the USMNT. Again, on the surface it sounds obvious; new manager = some new faces on the pitch. But the lineup seems to be more international than ever. Apart from the inclusion of players plying their trade in leagues all around the world (this was usually the case), there are now more players who were either born overseas or born to at least one foreign parent. A lot of these guys have dual-citizenship, and could have played for other countries. This, to me, is (ironically) the most American a team could possibly be. When you look at the names and the faces and the birthplaces of these players, you see a melting pot.

Jurgen chose his 23-man list for Brazil because he thinks that's his best team. The most controversial exclusion from this list was Landon Donovan, one of the most successful and decorated players to ever represent the United States. Jurgen's "European" sensibilities are of no benefit to star-studded players. He does not believe that players should be rewarded purely on the basis of their reputation, as is an all too common practice in American sports.

But because he's German and he's challenging the hallowed tradition of overpaying the egos of our most revered corporate spokespeople, like Kobe Bryant, HE SHOULD GET THE HELL OUT! Or, at least, that's what Michael Wilbon would have us believe. Don't bother getting into the details, Michael, you've got thirty seconds to shit all over someone your audience doesn't care about, to the appeasement of your corporate masters (because, again, how dare you insult our entitled corporate poster children?).

The best part of Wilbon's argument is that it's more applicable to himself than anyone else. What do you know about soccer, Michael? Perhaps you shouldn't fucking be talking about it. I'd also wager a mind like Klinsmann's is more finely attuned to the American sports landscape than Wilbon's, considering Jurgen is actually a part of it. Wilbon used to be a real sports journalist, but that's about it at this point. Never mind Jurgen's athletic accomplishments, which are much greater than Wilbon's, only one of these two individuals rambles like an imbecile.

I guess this is so offensive to me because I love soccer, and I'm sick of seeing it get short-shrift on ESPN. Yeah, they're covering the World Cup, but I'll be shocked if I hear any of their non-soccer-specific commentators say one remotely intelligent thing about anything that happens. Most of the time, when they're not covering the beautiful game (on ESPN 8, the "ocho"), they're saying something dumb about it. And shows like PTI are not just bad for soccer, but bad for sports in America in general. They simplify everything into digestible talking points, thus ignoring the inherent complexities of these competitions that make them entertaining and meaningful for thoughtful, intelligent humans.

So, in short, I'm against shitty television shows. And Michael Wilbon. Get off my screen, you un-American scumbag.

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