I have put this doctor’s appointment off twice now. The COVID-19 effect has delayed it some. My Mom has recently and strongly urged me not to postpone it again. She has told me a few different times “Dwain, you need to go so that preparations can be made for a more considered lifestyle as you approach your sixties.” You see, Mom is right. Mothers usually are aren’t they? She should know. Mom has medically diagnosed Dementia. One of her sisters had Dementia. She is now deceased. The other has Stage 2 or Middle Alzheimer’s. Mom reminds me frequently, because she forgets 😄, that Alzheimer’s can be hereditary. However, if it were not for my long, active career in football/soccer as a goalkeeper, I likely would not be taking Mom too serious.
But I really do need to go because of the whole soccer thing for 27-years. Throughout that career I suffered from at least four (probably more) concussions from game collisions, one or two traumatic, and some at practices/training. One of the game collisions broke my jaw in three places and knocked me completely unconscious; unconscious long enough for EMT’s to arrive with smelling-sauce to awaken me.
Though I am still a little worried. It is just that what the doctor may inform me after these second battery of tests that I am indeed in the early stages of CTE, or what is medically and neurologically termed as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is the term used to describe brain degeneration likely caused by repeated head traumas. CTE is a diagnosis made only at autopsy by studying sections of the brain.
CTE has been found in the brains of people who played football and other contact sports, including boxing. It may also occur in military personnel who were exposed to explosive blasts. Some signs and symptoms of CTE are thought to include difficulties with thinking (cognition), physical problems, emotions and other behaviors. It’s thought that these develop years to decades after head trauma occurs.
Have you seen the 2015 film Concussion starring Will Smith? If not, here is its official trailer:
Even though soccer/football concussions occur nowhere near as often as they do in the NFL, it is nonetheless a serious matter. This film hit me hard and hit deep, so deep at the end it made me sit in the living room recliner seemingly paralyzed and with abnormal breathing. Why? Why such a reaction? Two reasons:
Mom and two of her four sisters had/has Dementia/Alzheimer’s. One of them died too soon to conclude with certainty that she had Alzheimer’s—we’ll never know. Plus, two of that aunt’s four children are very religious (Pentecostal, Church of Christ?), another passed away early before my aunt died, and her youngest boy, my cousin I grew up with and was closer to was not confrontational nor religious at all. He was a hilarious peacemaker. I say all of this because there was no way in Hades that the two oldest, very religious cousins of mine were going to allow a medical examination of their mother’s brain. Therefore, it has only been confirmed that two, my Mom and her sister have dementia with the latter definitely suffering from Alzheimer’s.
As I mentioned earlier, I have suffered at least 4 or more concussions, likely more, and one of them knocked me unconscious for quite some time. During my playing days there was no Petr Cech padded helmets in existence (see image below). In addition to these multiple soccer/football concussions, I suffered another off-the-field of play. One early morning while—in high school freshman or sophomore year—delivering my papers for my Dallas Morning News paper route. Mom was driving me through the neighborhoods in our Plymouth four-door sedan while I was outside on top of the trunk with two-bags of those Sunday morning papers. On one particular street turn Mom accelerated a bit too fast. I imagine the sedan had also been washed and waxed one or two days earlier? I’m unsure. I think Mom was approaching 30 mph after turning onto this street and unfortunately for me she was not looking at me through the rear-view mirror. I slowly slid down the trunk feet first, desperately trying to find something on the car to grab, but there was nothing. I hit the street pavement that had small grey-white gravel embedded and the back of my head SLAMMED into the concrete. Our family doctor later that day said I had a bad concussion judging from the swelling on the back of my noggin and he made it very clear that my parents were not to allow me any sleep for the next 24-hours.
“There are no specific symptoms that have been clearly linked to CTE. Some of the possible signs and symptoms of CTE can occur in many other conditions, but in the few people with proven CTE, symptoms have included:
Difficulty thinking (cognitive impairment)
Depression or apathy
Short-term memory loss
Difficulty planning and carrying out tasks (executive function)
Suicidal thoughts or behavior”
Petr Cech of Chelsea FC, Arsenal, and the Czech Republic national team wearing his padded helmet following his major head concussion, trauma, and depressed skull fracture from a collision with Stephen Hunt of Reading FC.
I have six of these first eight symptoms, to varying degrees, for at least the last 15-years or so, one or two of them surfacing within the last 5-6 years. This is why my neurologist wants to see me again, and my Mom and I both agreed two years ago that I do need to go see a neurologist to get ahead of this. Either early in 2019 or late in 2018 I did go. The doctor concluded after testing that I was inconclusive at that date and time, BUT the fact that I had almost all of the currently known symptoms, made him want to see me again in a year.
Damn it! It has now been a year and if anything, I know with a lot of certainty that two of these above eight symptoms have manifested further. There are other external variables at play with these two—one being this unprecedented pandemic, social-distancing, and Stay-at-Home orders—so we must take those variables into consideration. Does that make this upcoming appointment Wednesday, May 20, 2020, any less anxious? Not really, not for me.
I hope this coming Wednesday night, Thursday, and subsequent days after will not be ladened with as Mom put it… “a more considered lifestyle as I approach my sixties.” From what I’ve learned about dementia, Alzheimer’s, and CTE I hope I might be a lucky goalkeeper who by some incredible odds does not develop any of these three neurological disorders for playing a sport and position I truly loved. Fingers crossed.
Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always
If any of you did not know, I am a former collegiate, pro and semi-pro athlete. I played abroad in W. Africa, Europe, and South America as a futeboller, or footballer as they call it in many foreign countries, or a soccer player here. I come from athletic sports families on both sides, American sports to be precise. You might say that it is in our blood, in our American blood. I was and still am the only one in both families that ever played soccer collegiately and professionally here and abroad. Maybe your family is different over the holidays. Perhaps your family has a strong matriarch who doesn’t allow non-stop American football on TV’s during these special holiday times. I can’t say I would blame her.
These two seasons of the year—autumn and winter—along with the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays (at least in Texas), in my two huge parental families of south Houston (near Galveston) and various small towns outside of Austin, were typically filled with large spreads of traditional holiday foods, that took massive amounts of time, effort, joking, laughter, and crews in the kitchens. Our holidays would also include friends who were in town and not travelling. Our enormous get-togethers also included games of dominoes, or cards, kids games outside, and most definitely any important football games on all the TV’s. American football games to clarify for my international readers and followers. In Texas, as in many parts of the U.S., football games have become a long-standing, enthusiastic (male?) tradition during the holidays. I dare say it is a must with many of the men and boys, and perhaps with certain female personality-types in the families. Would my American readers agree?
Over the last 10, 15, or 20-years this American family past-time has changed. It has evolved into a very different sort of “game” now, particularly on the TV. Have you noticed how much the NFL or NCAA D1 games have changed? For that matter, have you noticed how the NBA, MLB, along with the NFL—the three major sports in the U.S.—have changed the last 2-3 decades?
Over many, many holidays I have often found myself in a discussion or debate with cousins, uncles (mostly), and a gazillion friends—American friends—as to what sport is the “best” sport, the “most popular” sport, the “most enjoyable” sport, and/or the “richest” sport in the world. Richest often seemed to be a leading criteria for “best” or “most popular.” That always puzzled me. I am sad to say to my international readers and Followers that many/most Americans, definitely with my own family members, are infatuated with the misconception, the misnomer that the American NFL, NCAA D1, basketball, and baseball are not only the best, most popular sports in the entire world, they also believe America’s three major sports (NFL, NBA, and MLB) are the richest sports leagues in the entire world… and in their vivid imaginations, for good reasons.
Depending how one analyzes these “accolades,” in some ways they are correct. But in at least two ways they are misguided. Attempting to demonstrate and explain why they are sometimes grossly astray with their American sporting fantasy can be similar to teaching a grizzly bear to stay away from the hive of honey. 🙄 (face-palm, que Winnie the Pooh’s “Oh bother!”)
Time out! Throw the red challenge-flag onto the turf! Who is right and who is wrong? Let’s examine today’s evidence.
According to Howmuch.net, who measures financial information across various economic sectors, the American NFL generated $13-billion in revenues in the 2015-2016 season. The MLB, with a more international appeal, drew $9.5-billion in the same year.
Yes, four of the top five sports are in North America, a fact American sports fans proudly boast to foreign sports fans. But is it a monetary fact to freely boast about? From the standpoint of entertainment-value is American football really worthy of endless boasting?
I am surrounded, no… I am smothered by guys (and a handful of women) who explicitly and implicitly talk, watch, cheer, cry, angrily scream, then talk twice as long post-game about their team and how American football, both collegiate and in the NFL, are the greatest games played on planet Earth. I challenge them with questions and facts about other highly popular sports around the world, but when a national past-time is so deeply and emotionally ingrained into a person’s heart and mind—exactly like religious fervor, ironically—no matter the facts and evidence, it cannot sway or change the person’s electrified conviction!
There is a big, yet not-so-blatant reason why the NFL runs away with any revenue-profit comparisons. The highly lucrative business of American football’s top spot rests on its gullible spending fan-base. Case and point:
Anyone who has ever tuned into an NFL broadcast knows that plenty of air time is spent showing players huddling, coaches yelling, and fans cheering. That’s because while the on-field action can be exciting, it’s usually short-lived. In fact, according to a2010 Wall Street Journal studyof four football broadcasts, the ball was only in play for an average of 10 minutes and 43 seconds — approximately 4 seconds per play — even though an NFL telecast lasts about three hours. — 11 Minutes of Action, Curiosity.com,accessed Dec. 2, 2018
What is it that fanatical American football supporters are ACTUALLY watching? With an excessive amount of game interruptions, from video-reviews to player injuries to intentional league stoppages for TV sponsors, there are countless game stoppages and commercials!
[Commercials]demand about an hour of airtime. Replays take about 17 minutes, footage of cheerleaders command about 3 seconds, and shots of players standing around make up an average of 67 minutes, according to WSJ. Despite this minimal action, football viewership is in the millions. According toFortune, more than 111 million people tuned in to the 2017 Super Bowl.
— 11 Minutes of Action, Curiosity.com, accessed Dec. 2, 2018
It begs the question, is watching over an hour of corporate sales and marketing strategies, team fans acting bonkers getting in front of cameras, and players standing around with very little game-action happening, really something to boast about? Isn’t that what those corporate sponsors and the NFL want you to do for them? One way or another all they want from you is to open up your pocket-book repeatedly, directly or indirectly, every single season. It’s what makes the league and owners richer and richer while corporate businesses get in front of your face. Is it any shocking mystery why the NFL and other N. American sports leagues are so filthy rich? And what sort of return-on-investment do the fans get? Granted, there are many charities the leagues donate to and support like the “My Cause, My Cleats,” a three-week campaign. Those are outstanding causes and always needed; no argument there. But these sorts of charities are done every season by the majority of all sports leagues around the world. It’s nothing new. Consider this, from a playing-time standpoint have American football fans really analyzed how much time and energy they are spending in front of those live televised games watching very little football-action?
Here’s another highly sensitive question about “supporting” the NFL: How many times has the NFL allowed domestic abusers or civil law-breakers to continue playing in the league?Reuben Foster and Kareem Hunt are only the most recent in a long, long, long list of players given “special privileges” to keep playing. Fans of American football probably do not want to hear/read all the actual statistics. Excessive money talks, excessive money is often above laws and civil human rights. Team owners and the NFL Commissioner certainly don’t want those facts overly publicized! It hurts their personal bank accounts. Yes, domestic abuse, drug abuse, etc, are not strictly a sports problem, it is a societal problem. However, sports is a huge revenue-generating part of most all civilized societies as any other business or public sector. Therefore, it should be firmly and fairly addressed ANYWHERE it rears its ugly head and correct precedents actualized.
Nonetheless, in the end I can honestly think of several, much better ways to spend my cherished holiday time with friends and family than glued to a TV-set of American Corporate football. Amazingly though, I am in the minority. Wow, riddle me that! (scratch head)
Do you have similar experiences with your family and friends during the holiday season? Do you agree, disagree with this post? What should the holiday season be about?
Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always — Watch Less NFL!
There is an irrational sports mentality in America that the National Football League (NFL), or National Basketball Association (NBA), or Major League Baseball (MLB), and their televised “world championships” are the biggest spectacle in sporting events in the world. This is strictly an American invention, however. It does not exist anywhere except within the lower 48-states. The reality is this: the NFL, NBA, and MLB pale and pale greatly when put next to FIFA’s World Cup tournament and championship every four years. But certainly don’t take my word for it. Let’s look at these numbers. (line break)
* * * * * * * * * *
A London, UK-based media company called Initiative, Futures sport + entertainment, a firm that publishes reports and research on all and any sporting events, states “Soccer’s domination of global TV viewing is now complete.” According to Initiative, in 2009 the NFL’s Super Bowl XLIII was knocked off its most-viewed-event-in-the-world perch. This television topple has been coming since at least 2002, and immeasurably and arguably well before 2000.
Let’s start with the size of leagues or associations by the number of teams and their fans. These will strictly be men’s sports.
Number of Teams and Confederations
In the NFL there are 32 teams that play for the Super Bowl Championship. In the NBA there are 30 teams that play for the NBA Championship. In MLB there are also 30 teams that play for the World Series Championship. These three American professional sports have a total of 92 teams playing for three different championships. Now let us examine FIFA, or the Fédération Internationale de Football Association.
For just over three years, 226 national teams all over the world (as of 2014) compete for inclusion into the opening group-play in the FIFA World Cup tournament held every four years. That is over 7-times larger than the NFL and nearly 8-times larger than the NBA and MLB association and league respectively. But this comparison isn’t quite accurate; it doesn’t portray the true size of professional soccer players and their pro teams in each of those 226 FIFA nations.
FIFA is comprised of six(6) futebol, or soccer associations, represented by individual continents. The CAF (Confederation of African Football) comprises 54 national teams, each of those nations with professional leagues of teams/clubs totaling approximately 408 teams within those 54 nations; each team with an approximate roster of 22-25 players. Additionally, the 408 teams are merely the Top professional teams in the continent’s Top Leagues. There are typically lower 2nd and 3rd division leagues, or more, on each continent.
The next continental association, in alphabetical order, is the AFC (Asian Football Association) comprising 47 national teams. Within the 47 member nations, there are approximately 248 clubs/teams playing in AFC’s Top professional leagues; again, with approximately 22-25 players per roster. Once again, there are typically lower 2nd and 3rd division leagues as well.
UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) is the marquee FIFA association in the world, as well as the richest. It comprises one of the two elite Top footballing associations of the world with 54 member nations. Inside of the 54 nations consists approximately 871 Top professional teams/clubs with typically 4 to 5 lower divisions. And remember from here on out, each club’s roster consists of a minimum 22-25 players!
It is worth noting that with each of these national teams and each of these local or regional club-teams within each nation comes a passionate loyal following of fans five to fifteen times larger than the club’s roster! I dare you to try and do that math.
The next FIFA association continent is CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football) with 45 member nations. The United States is a member of this association. Within these 45 nations are approximately 155 teams/clubs playing in their Top professional leagues. And from here on out remember there are typically a minimum of 2 to 3 or more lower divisions.
Next is the OFC (Oceania Football Confederation) comprising 16 member nations with approximately 30 teams/clubs competing in Top professional leagues within these 16 nations.
CONMEBOL (Confederacion Sudamericana de Futbol), or commonly the South American Football Confederation, consists of 10 member nations. This confederation is the world’s second elite association next to UEFA. It has a staggering 1,931 teams/clubs competing in each nation’s Top professional leagues.
All in all, and if you were not tracking the total number of club teams within each nation in their Top professional leagues (i.e. not including all lower divisions), the approximate total of teams/clubs fielding players who dream about an individual chance to participate in the world’s ultimate sporting spectacle in their lifetime… conservatively it is approximately 3,643 teams/clubs dwindled down to 226 national teams, over a 3-year period, to play together for just two months, every four years. If we multiply those 3,643 teams with their faithful fans, say 5-times the 25-man roster of the club (91, 075 pro players) multiplied by the average soccer stadium capacity of 40,000 spectators, that bare-bone minimum fan-base equals almost 146-million live spectators. But this is a very conservative figure. According to FIFA.com “Facts and Figures”, an estimated 715.1 million fans watched on TV the 2006 World Cup Championship final in Germany; 3.18 million attended the 64 matches of the tournament. And these figures do not include various viewing-venues across the host nation.
The real scale of this sport during the World Cup tournament – not just by persons inside the stadiums but on television, viewing-venues, and now over the internet – is near incomprehensible in size, popularity, and economic revenues. And it is taking place again this June 2014.
The Economics of World Soccer
In this day and age of sports, soccer is king of mega business: a global industry with a wide spectrum of television contracts and lucrative merchandising deals which generate hundreds of billions of dollars annually. A number of clubs around the world now rank among the highest earning wealthiest sports teams on Earth. However, as quickly as revenues roll-in, they are paid right back out to multi-million dollar player contracts, signing fees and bonuses.
ESPN Magazine recently reported (April 2014) the Top 25 highest-paid athletes in the world – their endorsements are not included. Of the Top 5, three are soccer players: Cristiano Ronaldo ($50.2M) of Real Madrid FC, Lionel Messi ($50.1M) FC Barcelona, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic ($35M) of Paris Saint-Germain. According to Sportingintelligence’sGlobal Sports Salaries Survey (April 2014), Manchester City FC of the English Premier League, is the world’s best paid team paying out an average salary of $172,508 per week to its first-team players. Of the world’s Top 5 highest-paying sports teams, Spanish La Liga giants Real Madrid and Barcelona round out fourth and fifth at $161,373 per week and $158,397 per week respectively. The average professional athlete contract is 5-years. In this latest edition of the Global Sports Salaries Survey (GSSS), it provides a list of 100 teams paying out the most money per average first-team player over five years:
“The eye-watering sums on offer in elite European football[i.e. Barcelona FC]and in the major sports leagues in America effectively mean that a single five-year deal should provide enough money to setup a player for life. Real Madrid have the next highest five-year total: $41M per player on average, followed by the Yankees ($39.7M), then Manchester City ($35M), and Chelsea FC ($34.3M).”
The last table-graphic shown in the GSSS article (below image) is particularly enlightening for American sports fans. It shows that of the Top 20 five-year earnings for first-team players of all major sports around the world, HALF of them (10) are soccer teams/clubs. Of the remaining 10 sports, only five are NBA teams and four are MLB teams. National Football League teams do not make the list at all until No. 93: the Dallas Cowboys.
The primary reason soccer tops most team and player-salary lists is that almost ALL POSITIONS on the playing field are important (probably critical) for the organization to be successful and profitable. Soccer is, as well as basketball and hockey, are true team sports. In the sports of MLB and the NFL, that is not the case. The pitcher or pitching staff and quarterback are the critical positions influencing or controlling most dynamics of the game. Those players earn monumentally more money than their other teammates. It is also the reason why the Chicago Blackhawks of the NHL are 20 places higher than the first NFL team, the Cowboys.
Do these numbers explain why soccer unites more of the world than any other sport on the planet? What about the emotion, the passion of its fans?
(line break) The Fans
What does it mean when one asks the question, “What is the most popular sport in the world?” Does it mean the sport most-watched, most-played, or perhaps the wealthiest based on revenue? Yes to all three. I have done the research and spent the time answering this question, and if you choose to search for the answer as well, you will find the majority of polls and surveys will all say the same thing: soccer.
Why is soccer the king of all sports on the planet and has been for many decades? The passion of its fans is certainly one reason. If you’ve never been to a major soccer game in Europe or South America, among singing dancing fans, you are missing out on a life-time experience like no other. Want a taste?
The wonderful atmosphere of top-flight soccer matches are finally growing in the United States. When the U.S. Men’s National Team qualified for the World Cup in Brazil this summer, listen and watch how 40,000+ fans in Seattle, WA – some of the most excitable fans in the nation – celebrated the 3-year achievement:
But simply being amongst a mass of dancing singing humanity is only part of the experience. Understanding what the world’s greatest players do on the field with that ball, as an 11-man team, explains why it is called and known all around the globe as “the beautiful game.” Soccer is a worldwide language; the most popular language spoken in a multitude of dialects. As a naïve outsider and at first glance, an American might think the world’s passion for soccer is overly simple, unimpressive. One might write it off as a dull 90-minute game with an average score-line of 0-to-0 or 2-to-1 most games. But that impression would be from a grossly uninformed unimaginative closed-mind.
Yes, the world’s love of the game is indeed simple: the action is non-stop; the 22 players improvise tactics in the middle of a flowing game performing spectacular feats of athleticism and skills. But the passion goes much deeper for more complex reasons. The great Brazilian star Pelé describes the game as being so infused in many countries that over time the sport is not just a pastime, but has morphed into a reflection of national character. With the diversity of global geographies and cultures come distinctive playing-styles. These national styles have produced some of the most riveting, most brilliant moments in soccer history! Take a look at these six clips, considered by many footballing fans as the greatest World Cup moments and goals:
World Cup Final 1970 – Brazil’s Carlos Alberto’s goal
World Cup Group-play 1970 – England’s Gordon Banks’ save vs. Pelé
World Cup 1982 – The heavily favored-to-win squad of Brazil: “Ballet with the Ball – A Love Story”
World Cup Qualifier 2001 – England’s goal frenzy vs. Germany
World Cup 2006 – The Tournament’s Best
World Cup 2010 – Top 10 Goals
One of the most exquisite skills a world-class soccer player can master is the art of dribbling. The game’s biggest stars have signature tricks and moves to beat their opponent. In real time it is a blur, gone in one or two seconds. But the amount of training and practice required to use them in the game is mind-boggling. Watch these élite players from around the world showcase their best tricks and define why this game of soccer is so worshiped around the globe.
In 1992 in the country of Ivory Coast in West Africa, the Ivorians were so determined to have their national team win the African Nations Cup that the government’s sports minister enlisted a battalion of fétisheurs – juju men – to place on the team a supernatural advantage against rival Ghana. When the minister later broke promises of payment to the fétisheurs, they in turn placed a hex on the Ivorian team, which then went on a ten-year spell of losing results. When the defense minister desperately sought to make amends with the witch doctors, offering cases of liquor and large money bags, the hex was lifted. Almost immediately the team did a 180 and qualified for the 2006 World Cup.
In Spain, where soccer is so dramatic it is often described as theater, a Spanish novelist writes his obsession with the beautiful game this way:
“Once you’ve fallen into the game, there is no getting out…[stats]will tell you almost nothing about the game itself. The player who actually wins the game may be the one who moves into space at the opposite side of the field, drawing a defender, forcing a new configuration upon the defense and making virtually inevitable a goal that was before impossible, but no one – not even he – may be aware of this. It’s all narrative, and thus subjective: Each game is a story, a sequence of ambivalent metaphors, a personal revelation couched in the idiom of the faith. No game I know of is so dependent upon such flowing intangibles as “pattern” and “rhythm” and “vision” and “understanding.” Which may all be illusions. And at the same time it is a very simple game: like dreams, almost childlike.”
In today’s Croatia, soccer is a form of group therapy which bore a new nation. A match between Zagreb’s Dinamo and Belgrade’s Red Star in 1990 marked the beginning of Croatia’s war for independence. After the opening whistle at kickoff, fans from both teams clashed in the stadium stands, as well as onto the field. A Serb-dominated police force began beating Croatian spectators while allowing Serbian fans to run freely. This ignited the already boiling-over tensions in what was then Yugoslavia. Upon witnessing a Serb-policeman wail on a fallen Dinamo fan, midfielder Zvonimir Boban rushed and karate-kicked the officer (image above left), and later became a Croatian national hero of their independence movement. In one of the biggest upsets in World Cup lore, Croatia beat powerhouse Germany in the 1998 World Cup Quarterfinals and then went on to win third place by beating an equally stacked Netherlands 2 – 1. After the match, Croatians flooded the town squares and streets in adulation and song. On television, many reporters interviewed grown men who couldn’t stop bawling. Courtney Angela Brkic, a Croatian author, stated that “not since the declaration of independence, had so much unified celebration been seen. Now no one could deny Croatia its place on the map.”
In Brazil, the only nation to have won the World Cup five times and the only national team to have appeared in all World Cup tournaments since its start in 1930, soccer is an ideology and state religion. Nowhere in the world does a nation try so hard to play the game so beautifully as Brazilians. And that is why Brazilian players are so loved around the world by so many fans and top leagues. The Brazilian national team has never been ranked world-wide below No. 10, a record untouched by any other soccer nations. Their fans do the Samba non-stop for ninety plus minutes as their players do indescribable tricks and feats between all ten of their team’s players. It is why Brazil, on any continent, is always the beloved overdog of every World Cup. They are the only favorite that is always a favorite.
This June 2014
If you cannot make it to games in Brazil this summer, the next best thing is to find a local pub or bar with an international flavor and history that will be televising the tournament. I guarantee the place will be raucous and rocking with national team fans. I always try to find a Brazilian restaurant-bar; the atmosphere is utterly electric, colorful, and beautiful. I will most certainly support my U.S. National Team, but unfortunately their odds of advancing out of the early group stage are minimal against the exceptional likes of Portugal, Ghana, and Germany. Nevertheless, the spectacle of the game will be phenomenal and the skills and creativity of the world’s best players on the world stage will be unparalleled. Be a part of it. Be united with the rest of the world for two memorable incredible months!
I had retired from my semi-pro and professional soccer career and was in a transition trying to decide what I wanted to do next. It was 1996 and for the time being I was helping a friend manage one of north Dallas’ well-known nothing-but-soccer retail stores. Many times coaches, team captains, and booster-clubs would come in for assistance in ordering team uniforms for the upcoming school or amateur league seasons. This time of year also included the local women’s teams and co-ed teams. But before I go any further, let me explain the well-known fact risk a “retired” male professional (and lifetime single-gender) soccer player takes when joining an amateur co-ed team and league.
The Play-At-Your-Own-Peril Rule
I began playing soccer at the age of ten. By middle school I was playing competitive soccer – what today is called select soccer – and wanted not only to play professionally, but try to at least make the U.S. Men’s National Team roster. What was often whispered among such serious players with such lofty dreams was try your best not to play with or against the clueless recreational teams and players, but more critically never play with or against girls. Now ladies, before you go into your rant, please bear with me and let me explain what it’s about and why it was a whispered rule.
First of all, not playing against recreational teams is a policy most major sports franchises enforce and hence protect their high-valued stars. Second of all, and a lesson I learned several times in my career, from a tactical and confidence standpoint the stronger professional players gain very little or nothing at all by playing the weaker/amateur team other than a practice, or an opportunity to let 2nd and 3rd stringers get playing time. In those rare cases the pro team takes a slim chance in damaging their status or image if they play poorly or worse, lose.
The reason male pro players almost never play competitively against women – and I am genuinely not trying to insult female athletes – is for the simple reason that both teams and genders risk unnecessary injury. In sports, on the whole, women’s bodies move differently than men’s. Momentum, for whatever reason, is initiated and managed differently between the genders. If you don’t believe me, simply watch the two sexes in slow-motion action and how they ‘collide’.
It is a well-established unspoken rule that in competitive contact sports a man plays at his own risk against women. I had known this law for eighteen years.
The Never-ending Beer and Female Introductions Carrot
Returning now to 1996, three attractive female soccer players have been visiting our soccer store often in preparation for the upcoming co-ed season opener. Their player roster is also not complete; they desperately need a goalkeeper! For reasons unknown to me, no one presently on the team wanted to play goalkeeper. And before these very charming women asked, I knew exactly what was about to come out of their seductive mouths…. “We have heard about how good a goalkeeper you are and that you’ve even played professionally!” Huh!? I wasn’t expecting that approach! Hmm, I’ll give ‘em that…. stroking my ego is a good tactical move. But you ladies, I was thinking, are going to have to come up with a lot more before I even entertain the remote possibility of risking my safety! I shook my head two or three times, No, sorry ladies.
And then came the coup d’état.
“We will buy” they countered with smirks “all of your beer after every game and promise to introduce you to a minimum of three HOT women players each weekend!” To say I was aroused would be gross understatement. “When does the season start?” I replied.
In my hyper-excited mind, I imagined consecutive weekends of hot dates galore and massive amounts of sleep-overs. The score line of our games or whether we had a winning season or not was of absolutely no concern for me. I happily signed my lop-sided contract!
Game 1 of 12
The referee’s opening whistle blew. The comical usual cheering and smack-talk began from both teams and their fans/family members on the sidelines. It truly made me laugh; I had already heard the most abusive and slandering and loudest rhetoric in my career having played around the world. I was more entertained by my thoughts of the post-game festivities. Damn, we were only about ten minutes into our game. Ah, here comes a cross into my penalty box from my left, between the penalty spot and the eighteen-yard line….easy, easy pickings. I quickly come out to snatch it.
I scream the usual scream to my defense “Keeper’s!” I launch into my usual very high-vertical leap, snag the ball with extended arms ABOVE my head, and as per my umpteen years of training and experience proceed to pull the ball down into my chest….. but then SLAM and everything goes black and silent.
The next moment I remember are the EMT’s putting the smelling sauce under my nose. HOLY SHIT my entire jaw and face are in excruciating pain! The EMT’s keep asking me several questions, load me onto their gurney, and I am transported to the nearest ER. There the attending physician informs me that I need 10 stitches on my right under side edge of my chin, and my jaw is broken in two places on the left side near the front of my ear. I will also have to have my jaw and mouth wired shut for six to eight weeks. Two of those three women who talked me in to playing are there consoling me “…they didn’t score.” With my best scolding look I murmured what I hoped sounded like “This is NOT how I wanted to frickin meet women!” I mean shit, I never even saw her! How many beers could have been bought with the upcoming ambulance, emergency room, and doctors bill!?
My co-ed season was over before it began.
Image courtesy of rakball.net
Further details of the collision shared by them made my predicament even more depressing – and over time, made theirs a favorite pub story. A long story short, the girl THOUGHT by unimaginable lotto odds, she’d have a chance to head that ball…. with her eyes closed for God’s sake! The top of her head hit my chin if that gives you ANY idea of how wrong she was! And by the way, that ball she thought she could head was firmly in my hands three-feet above my chin! In my profession, on my futebol pitch, with other professional male athletes, it was a NO BRAINER that no one could have had any chance of getting their head on that ball. They would not have even jumped! I hope as you are reading you are picking up on my enraged astonishment.
I am fortunate to have great dental genetics from both parents. As I was taught by my parents, I take above average care of those teeth. As a result, I have learned that my mouth is fine with irregular orthodontic checkups; like on the every 3 to 5 year frequency or more. In fact, I did not get my first cavity until I was 24-years old and it was barely a cavity. Often orthodontists would admire my teeth, entire mouth and all my wisdom teeth.
This time I was returning to the dentist after twelve years. However, this visit I knew I was well past the “praise” of the hygienist and her doctor: I had what was likely a developing abscess. I was expecting the dreaded line “Yes, it will have to come out.” But then my new orthodontist asked a question that was totally from left field.
“Have you ever had a traumatic facial injury?”
The Good News, the Bad News, and the Recurring News
My orthodontist confessed that he really didn’t have to ask that question; he knew I had had a traumatic facial injury. He was viewing all the evidence on the x-rays up in the light. In his many years of practice he had seen it a thousand times. And once again, I had to retell the above story to him. As I was about to begin, I thought to myself, that damn invisible woman is STILL haunting me! And that proverbial line: I didn’t even get her name. The dentist begins his verdict…
The good news is that for not being in for a checkup and cleaning for ages, your condition is good and normal. The bad news is that not only does that abscessed tooth need to come out, but you have two more that need extraction, probably a fourth, and maybe a fifth. “And you know what’s strange about your condition,” he asked, “you don’t have cavities in any of those 3-5 teeth!” The erupting roots in all those teeth are a result of that facial injury.
Now over the next 3-weeks, I will be getting surgical extractions, fitted for a 3 or 5 toothed denture, and paying $2,500 – $5,000 to stop any further problems; from a problem that began with: When does the season start?
The 1970’s Carpenters song Close to You goes on and on in my head:
That is why all the girls in town (Girls in town) Follow you (Follow you) All around
[But I saw nothing!]… Just like me, they long to be Close to you
* * * * * * * * * *
An All-Points-Bulletin for athletic men who have weakened will-power around all things seductively female:
Sooner or later, one way or another, you WILL pay for a woman’s company, that introduction, and anything else you desire of her!
Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always