Suddenly, we're all about futball. (Which is what the cool kids call soccer, you silly non-sports person.) It's the futball game where the concussions come from head-butting the ball and not other players.
The sports stepchild here in the states may be finally showing some real growth. The England/USA match was the highest-rated soccer match ever on US TV. (It's tough to compare TV ratings for sporting events since the pandemic. Between sports season disruptions, people staying at home and not clustering at stadiums and bars to watch the games, it's still tough to get a super accurate idea of trends in TV viewing.) Having said that, soccer is looking good. Note how many people (especially twenty and thirty-somethings) were enthusiastic about packing the sports bars to watch Team USA and some of the other matches. Now that the sports-bro crowd has found soccer, can vuvuzelas and gangs of US soccer hooligans be far behind? I feel confident that the US can compete on the world hooligan stage.
What is more interesting is the political protests and demonstrations happening during the games. Organizers desperately try to keep political protest out of the games. "Please, let's now focus on the football!" they wrote to the 32 participant teams. Protestors and sign wavers are nothing new in sports, of course. But there are some truly consequential protests happening that involve entire soccer teams. And they're thumbing their noses at their tyrannical home countries.
US fans lost their minds when San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick "took a knee" during the singing of the national anthem back in 2016. This was in protest of racial injustice, police brutality, and oppression in America. He became a free agent the next season and remains unsigned. He later received a settlement with the NFL over his accusations that NFL owners colluded with each other and refused to allow him to play. President Trump would enter the fray and further politicized the pro/anti-Kaepernick factions and protests. It boiled over furiously in 2020 when George Floyd lost his life at the hands of Minneapolis police.
So Kaepernick effectively lost his career. This was not unlike the October 16, 1968, 200-meter running event of the 1968 Summer Olympics. Two athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos (gold, bronze,) each raised a black-gloved fist during the playing of the US national anthem while on the medal podium. They kept their fists raised as they faced the flag and held them high until the anthem had finished. This was understood to be a "black power" salute. They also wore human-rights badges on their jackets.
They were expelled from the games.
And who can forget On April 28, 1967, boxing champion Muhammad Ali refused to be inducted into the U.S. Army. He was stripped of his heavyweight title. Ali had become a Muslim, and cited religious reasons for his decision to forgo military service. He lost his title and his boxing license and was sentenced to prison time. He stayed out of jail as the case was appealed to the Supreme Court. The conviction for evading the draft was overturned.
Serious consequences for serious protests. But how about the World Cup?
The USA played Iran Wednesday and beat them 1-nil. As the US Team jumped up and down and hugged each other in celebration, almost the entire Iranian team fell to their knees on the pitch. Most of their fans had jeered at their play. They will return to a country bitterly divided over support for the team itself while almost universally angry at the repressive President Ebrahim Raisi regime. The team, caught in a political movement that they did not start, has vacillated between supporting the citizens of their country or dutifully (and fearfully) respecting the hated ruling party.
The protests in Iran were sparked by the morality police’s Sept. 13 arrest of Mahsa Amini in Tehran after she refused to wear a hijab scarf "properly" to cover her head. She was beaten and later died. When the Iranian soccer team didn't sing their national anthem during the first game in a show of solidarity with the protestors, they were labeled as traitors by the ruling party. In their second game, they sang the anthem and were promptly labeled sellouts for their betrayal of the people. Any protest could mean dire consequences. Yet fans in the stands jeered the team and chanted protest slogans, though some were paranoid that there were secret police watching them, even in Qatar. The bolder ones wore T-shirts that read “Women, Life, Freedom.”
There are certainly consequences possible for players deemed not loyal enough to the Iranian government. After they refused to sing their anthem during the first game, they were taken aside and told that their families would face “violence and torture” if they did not sing or if they joined any political protest against the Tehran regime. (Human rights activists claim that around 450 protestors and 60 security officers have been killed during the recent protests, and over 18,000 have been arrested.) So, there are worse things than simply losing your job.
And China is having its own FIFA moment. After three years of insanely restrictive Covid lockdowns, protests have sprung up around their nation. They are growing more violent. When their citizens have been able to see soccer coverage, they are seeing packed stadiums full of people - maskless - enjoying the games. (Chinese censors have tried to block this jubilant footage.) The Chinese protests have become more aggressive as their citizenry has become more fed up.
And finally, FIFA, (Fédération Internationale de Football Association, the governing body of international football - soccer), already saddled with a history of corruption among its leaders, is under fire for allowing the games to be played in Qatar in the first place. Qatar, also a repressive regime, does not recognize LGBT rights, equal rights for women, or worker rights. Homosexuality is criminalized in Qatar. There have been reports of rainbow flag pins and patches worn by players or fans being disallowed in the stadium.
It's also come to light that four to five hundred cheaply paid (or even unpaid) immigrants died during the rushed construction of the stadiums and grounds for the games. Thousands labored under almost inhumane conditions.
Another unpopular revelation was only made clear hours before the first game was to begin. Qatar ruled that alcohol could not be served at the games. Imagine the hundreds of thousands of fans paying thousands of dollars (or name the currency of your choice) each to come to the world's biggest sports-party-of-the-moment... and being served orange juice. (No vodka.) Alcohol is pretty much illegal in the country - it can cost a potential fine of $800 and six months in jail.
Probably not best to test the local's resolve in keeping their country free from sinful Western influence and our general lack of morality. It is no doubt fresh in US fans' minds that Brittney Griner is still in a very uncomfortable Russian prison for allegedly carrying empty vape canisters that had nothing but pot residue in them. Good idea to leave that flask at home. Better safe than imprisoned.
Consequential protests have serious consequences. and most of the consequences in these repressive countries are pretty brutal.
Enjoy the game! (and free speech when you get home.)
This week, Roger Gray decided to look on the bright side of politics. Well, alright, as bright as it ever gets for Roger. One of those, "laugh to keep from crying moments"?
And yeah, he's got some funny stuff in here. Here's a picture of Herschel Walker at Buc-ee's. Note the caption. Again, laugh to keep from crying, with Roger Gray.
So check it out:
Outlaw Jim Moore goes in the opposite direction and harshes our mellow. The border show is looking more and more like "Apocalypse Now II: Abbott's Border." It's a revolving photo op for right-wingers looking for anti-immigrant cred - more military vehicles, camo, and law agencies than you can shake a campaign poster at. And ain't it strange that none of the GOP legislators taking selfies on the Rio Grande have proposed any meaningful legislation to solve the crisis? Sure it costs a lot not to solve a problem this big, but in the end, it's a real campaign moneymaker.
DeeceX brings us back, full mellow. After he attended the wedding of a couple of friends of his. He got pretty misty-eyed telling us about how the wedding put a little hope back into his life (and has some recommendations on how you can restore a little hope in your own life.)
*By the way, the bride was none other than Friend of the Outlaws, Margaret Justus. DeeceX knows Margaret from their days working for Gov. Ann Richards. You will remember that Margaret was our podcast guest only a couple of weeks ago and talked about her recent book The One Ann Only: Wit and Wisdom from Texas Governor Ann Richards. (Makes a great Christmas gift!)