Like anyone born before Newt Gingrich was actively attacking Ronald Reagan as the reincarnation of Neville Chamberlain, I grew up in a different America, one anticipating imminent doom not from fat kids and Iran's nuclear ambitions but from killer bees and Russia's nuclear reality. As my colleague Jesse Walker once said, the past is a different planet. Indeed, it may be a whole other galaxy.
I played soccer throughout the 1970s, back when defenders were called "fullbacks" and midfielders were called "halfbacks" because (American) football was the only possible analogue by which to name positions. For a brief shining moment, the full-blown adoption of the metric system was only a second Ford adminstration away from becoming a lead-pipe cinch and the New York Cosmos of the NASL (look it up on the Google, kids) were outdrawing the football Giants at the Meadowlands.
Yet even in New Jersey, a state stuffed to its sweetly toxic gills with Irish, Italian, Cuban, and other recent-immigrant types who played soccer without apology or acknowledgement that it marked them as unmeltable ethnics, the feets-don't-fail-me-now game was officially an oddity.
In good old Middletown, New Jersey, the kid leagues were sponsored only by the Catholic church, which was trying to branch out from its decades-long stranglehold on the unambiguously American sport of basketball (god bless the C.Y.O.). And even then, my Romish high school only added a varsity team around 1979. We lost every game our first season and the minor high points came only when an opposing team scored on itself.
Pele, Shep Messing (who posed for Playgirl), and Kyle Rote, Jr. be damned: Donning short-shorts and running around a field without using your hands and wearing a helmet and shoulder pads was seen as bizarre and inherently girls-only as synchronized swimming (which was called water ballet back then). That soccer (yeah, yeah, futbol) was big in Europe only emphasized the innately femme nature of the game and its obviously Marxist origins. The "men" in Europe held hands, cried at the drop of a hat, and carried purses, fer chrissakes.
So it came to pass that throughout my adolescence, I was regularly accused of being gay and communistic simply for preferring to play soccer rather than engage in the openly homoerotic butt-slapping that characterized (American) football.
That experience taught me to be suspicious whenever anybody makes claims that a particular non-political activity is inherently ideological. So I was especially well-prepared for the seemingly weekly columns written by Fred Barnes, then at The New Republic, and others throughout the 1980s about how Americans would never accept soccer because, well, it was sort of collectivist and totally faggy. In a post-9/11 world, Barnes finally acknowledged that soccer wasn't all bad as long as the American boys were "world-class.”
Which brings me, on the eve of the Super Bowl, to the latest dumb-dumb piece in which jock-sniffing right-wingers lay claim to a particular athletic activity as supremely conservative.
The article in question is double-plus-good on this score, as it's titled "Move Over, NASCAR: Why Mixed Martial Arts Is The True Conservative Sport!" and appears at National Review Online, the website of the magazine founded by William F. Buckley, Jr. in the 1950s to stand athwart history yelling stop. To stand athwart history, not a groggy, punch-drunk, scantily clad man you've just spent the past 40 minutes intimately feeling up.
So why exactly is MMA so conservative? The reasons, argues Arlen Delgado, are really pretty self-evident and include the following points:
- "It's conservative philosophy manifested in a sport." Because nothing says respect for tradition more than a couple of guys leg-locked together and rolling around in a ring inspired by anti-commie screenwriter and director John (Red Dawn) Milius.
- "The UFC boasts a disproportionately high number of outspoken conservative fighters." Because, contra basketball player Charles Barkley, Auburn's "round mound of rebound" who was once discussed as a GOP candidate for governor of Alabama, sports figures should be considered role models?
- "The UFC staunchly supports U.S. military personnel and veterans." Because everyone remembers that moment during the baseball's All-Star game last year when the American and National League teams mooned a platoon of paraplegic Fallujah vets? Or back when Jane Fonda did a Super Bowl half-time salute to Ho Chi Minh from a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun (I think the Kansas City Chiefs won that year)?
To be fair, it's not only the right that tries to claim certain games or even athletics writ large for its side. The Nation devoted a whole issue last year to sports, with the unappetizing subtitle, "Views from Left Field," and featuring such ripped-from-the-Comintern-headlines as "Class Struggle on the Court" and "Revolution on Eight Wheels: Roller Derby marries an underground vibe with the fun of athletic competition” (as if we needed another pinko take on roller derby after Raquel Welch’s epic Kansas City Bomber, easily the agit-prop equal of anything Eisenstein churned out).