Of all the things to loathe in sports, there’s one that American fans hate as much as anything. It still happens in games the people love, but the act itself blows past distasteful, past disdainful, straight to disgusting.
Flopping. It can ruin a sport, even a beautiful one, one that otherwise is worthy of attention and respect.
And because of that, soccer has a problem. And because of that problem, many sports fanatics in this country will have trouble embracing it.
Anyone who has watched portions of the World Cup knows the deal.
Players, some of the best on the planet, at times fall to the ground in the mix as though they had taken direct fire from an M1 Abrams. They might be simply jogging around and then … boom, they crumple to the ground and writhe in pain. They don’t just writhe in pain, they roll around and around and around until, finally, their bodies plant themselves into the turf, seemingly never to rise again until the great resurrection.
If you had five bucks for every time you’ve seen a soccer player do this, you could pay Neymar’s annual salary, and have enough left over to buy an MLS franchise.
It’s a freaking joke. And it’s frustrating.
It’s beneath a game as great as soccer. And it’s enough to chase off potential new fans in the United States who might be able to make it past some of the quirks of the sport that require acclimation.
When scoring-hungry American sports fans, casual to or unversed in or even knowledgeable about soccer, are asked what they would change about the beautiful game to make it more appealing to them, they can look past the offsides rule, the inconsistent officiating, the dearth of goals.
They cannot look past the acting and the dramatics, the melodramatics.
It is hateful to many sports fans here.
Yes, it happens in the NBA sometimes, and when it does, fans have a low threshold for tolerating it. It’s bad form there, too.
But out on that vast expanse of green, it appears especially underhanded and soft, and it goes down to those watching as nothing short of bitter.
The last thing red-white-and-blue sports fans want to see on that great field of competition is their gladiators faking it, acting like wimps, trying to get an advantage by being weak and vulnerable, trying to get their opponents, their fellow competitors in trouble by being a thespian.
They can take and appreciate acting on the silver screen or on television or on broadway. Those vehicles of entertainment are fictional, or mere representations of what’s real.
Sports to your average fan here in the United States is real.
For them, what happens on the court or the field or the diamond may be an escape from real life, but the action in an important game had best be the truth. It is at the core of why fans connect to the sports we love. May the best man or woman win. End of story.
Not the one with the best acting skills so the opponent gets in trouble.
Most Americans have no respect for that. They want their athletes to be everything they are, and maybe sometimes even more.
For instance, the guy out there who delivers the mail every day for a living, fighting off weather, beating back the elements, dodging dogs and all manner of danger, come what may, you think he wants to pay hard-earned cash to show up at a game watching a soap opera? You think he wants his sports heroes to drop to the turf when they get a little nudge here or there and then cry like a baby, looking for a call?
You think the woman who has to run a company, who is under nonstop pressure, putting in 70, 80 hours a week, making big decisions, decisions that affect the welfare and well-being of her company and her employees, wants to watch players fake injuries to soothe their egos or gain an advantage or stick it to somebody who beat them in some way?
Get that weak stuff out of here.
Play the game the way it was meant to be played, with heart, with determination, with resolve, with integrity, with toughness, the way Americans would play it, if they were any good at it, if they were good enough at it to qualify for the World Cup.
Until leaders of the game worldwide get this message across to players, not just the professionals, but to the up-and-comers, to the kids who play soccer from an early age, it will be difficult for many Americans to stomach that which they otherwise might come around to and embrace and, most importantly, respect.
Play the game, play it hard and when you get knocked down, get back up and play it some more.
Leave the acting to DeNiro and Streep, leave the weeping to those who really have reason to cry.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.