Watching the men’s FIFA World Cup, going on in Russia, reminds me just how much I love soccer. In fact, I think I can safely say men’s soccer is one of my favorite forms of live theater.
Sure, there’s athleticism and pride for country, but really some of the best artistry is that of the fake injury.
It’s improv stage combat method acting at its finest, and nearly deserves its own Tony Awards category that could be given for execution, believability and successfully earned free kicks.
(Note to self: Google if those guys have to take advanced gymnastics training to master the flips and flops so gracefully — and without actually hurting themselves.)
Now, some might think the real injuries in soccer are plentiful enough, but I say we’d be denying these gents their greatest creative outlet if we didn’t honor their trip-over-nothing-and-roll-three-times-in-agony owies.
The poor dears just lost possession of the ball (and, for sure, would have scored had it not been for the egregious assault); let them emote for a second — or a couple of minutes. So what if they need three trainers to jiggle their quads and double check that all limbs are still attached, only for the player to get up, limp three steps, do a calf stretch for some reason, and then play on because they’re magically healed or just so tough they can walk off what looked akin to passing a kidney stone.
Wouldn’t we all do the same if we were out there?
Oh wait, women soccer players don’t. We handle tackles — whether fair or foul — just like we handle colds. We just keep going.
I can say “we” because I played competitively year-round growing up and wasn’t even half bad. I mean, I wasn’t quite the Mia Hamm my mom thought I was, but I was good enough to entertain the idea of trying out for Utah’s Olympic Development Program (I didn’t; depression and anorexia ended up wiping out my senior year).
I can vouch that soccer is not a sport for the faint of heart. I remember playing through sprained ankles, cracked ribs and concussions (not advised). We certainly had our tantrum moments, too, but I’ve never seen a women’s match with multiple Oscar-winning performances.
Our sport is markedly less melodramatic; the stoppage-time-earning ankle-grabbing moments that ultimately end up in the player being miraculously in perfect health are few and far between. I think it’s because generally men’s toughness is assumed, so they can wince and thrash in style, whereas women’s grit has to be reaffirmed bruise after bruise.
While I adore men’s soccer for the “West Side Story” fight scene choreography, I like women’s soccer more for the sport (and the three World Cup championships!).
And, really, it’s probably a good thing for the survival of our species that giving birth is only a women’s event.
Marina Gomberg is a communications professional and lives in Salt Lake City with her wife, Elenor Gomberg, and their son, Harvey. You can reach Marina at firstname.lastname@example.org.