Soccer requires a different approach — not only from players, but from viewers
David Hebestreit, a soccer coach and teacher, suggests that Americans would enjoy soccer more if they made the effort to understand it.
"It's understandable that those who grew up watching and playing football, hockey or baseball could find soccer abstract. Even boring. Football and baseball are scripted sports. They require vast amounts of set information before anyone even takes the field. In football, for instance, entire quarters of a team's game plan are set forth and go unchanged irrespective of the circumstances. And the action stops frequently for commercials and commentary.
"Soccer is very different. It is about improvisation, and there are few stops in the action. The sport even transcends the intrusive industry of advertising, which gets time only at an interval between two 45-minute halves.
"While most American sports praise runs, points and touchdowns, spectators at a soccer match will often applaud when the ball is nowhere near either goal and it appears nothing has happened. They commend seemingly innocuous moments like a player getting out of a tight space, as though stepping out of a throng of people at a bus stop, or when a team switches the point of attack quickly, moving the ball from one side of the field to the other with only a few touches. ...
"Maybe we aren't ready for the improvisation that exists in the sport. Certainly we are eliminating it from our schools and workplaces. If so, we may never identify with the sport as a culture. And the rest of the world will go on thinking, 'How can a country with 270 million people not be better at it?' ...
"And why does this matter now? It matters now because the American men's team failed to qualify for the coming Summer Olympics. In a qualifying region deemed weak, we did not make the cut."
"As a side note, the American women's team did qualify for the Olympics. Their first match is against France on July 25. Although this may not bring the same level of exposure to the game as both the men's and women's teams making it through, it still provides the kind of platform that I think you were talking about in your commentary." -- Dana Schumacher-Schmidt, Minneapolis
For women, Title IX made the difference between watching sports and playing them
Jennifer Imsande, a former college athlete, ponders the impact that Title IX had on female athletes.
"This month marks the 40th anniversary of that legislation. Designed to promote civil rights in education, it had its greatest impact on sports. And it did create a divide in women's experiences. I know. I am a post-Title IX star athlete who was raised by a woman who should have been a star athlete.
"Title IX made it possible for school-aged females who find joy and freedom in physical expression to find it in sport. I put academics first because I wanted to go to college. But sport is where I learned (and still learn) about transcending limitations, entering deep focus, developing commitments, and practicing leadership. In short, it is where I learned how to become who I am.
"I captained two of my three sports in high school, competed in track and field for the University of Minnesota, and was later inducted into my high school's sports hall of fame. I've only ever experienced sport as both possible and accessible. ...
"In a pre-Title IX, rural world, [my mother's] options were limited to cheerleading — to cheering for others to find transcendence in sport. Even though it's clear she is an athlete and competitor. Better than me, perhaps. ...
"My mother, in retirement, is starting to put sport and fitness into her life. She started with golf. And she's doing it without the benefit of what I have had: a lifetime of institutional support for her dreams. That, to me, makes her the star athlete."
Violent place we see on the news is not the Syria a visitor learns to love
Kristi Rendahl, a Minnesota-based writer and blogger, balances the current news from Syria with her recollections of a warm and hospitable people.
"The whole world knows about Syria on the brink of civil war. What I know, by contrast, is Syrian hospitality. I took a side trip to Syria a few years ago. It was a short distance from Armenia, where I was visiting friends.
"When I told [a] shop owner that I had been given the name of an Armenian family to contact in Damascus, he grabbed the phone. Within minutes, he had arranged for the family to meet me in his shop the following morning.
"Sure enough, the next morning they appeared and insisted that I would be staying with them that night. Then the entire family drove me around the countryside, visiting churches built during the times when national security mandated smaller doorways so invaders couldn't enter on horseback. I slept in the daughters' room that night while one of them burned me a CD of Arabic music. The next morning, the father took me to the train station and asked one of the train workers to watch out for me. ...
"My visit to Syria was filled with joy. The thing about Syrians — along with the Lebanese and Persians and Turks and other peoples in that part of the world — is that they hold their guests above everything else. You wouldn't know that if you learned about them only from the news, but it's true."
"I live outside of the United States and have been lucky enough to sample the hospitality of many different cultures. The lesson I've learned each time is that the character of a region is almost never relayed by the representation of the words or deeds of its leaders." -- Todd Melcher, Puerto Vallarta
The danger of a Supreme Court that can find a 'rational basis' for any mandate
Anthony Sanders, an attorney, describes what he says is a dangerous willingness among members of the Supreme Court to remove restraints on federal power.
"What is most shocking about last month's ruling on the Affordable Care Act is not that the law was upheld but that any justices voted to uphold it. ... When the U.S. Supreme Court is one vote away from abandoning a basic safeguard for liberty, you know how precarious our system of federalism has become. ...
"Because health insurance is a commercial product, goes the argument, Congress can compel individuals to purchase it since doing so is 'rationally related' to 'interstate commerce.' Thus, even though not purchasing health insurance is (undeniably) not interstate commerce, the federal government can force individuals to buy it because of a 'rational' relationship between not buying it and actually buying it. In other words, the opposite of commerce is rationally related to commerce. The same would be true of not buying any product, or even any service. My not buying a car affects the interstate market of cars. If Congress feels there is a problem with insufficient demand for cars, it could require me to purchase one because of the 'rational' relationship between my choice not to buy a car and interstate commerce. ...
"This 'rational basis test' crops up in many other areas of constitutional law as well. Every time it does, be warned: It means the court is fixing the game for the government to win."
"Just like there is no rational basis for the 'broccoli' argument in the recent ACA decision, there is no rational basis to think that the government would force you to purchase a car.
"There was insufficient demand to purchase cars a couple of years ago, and yet the government did not command the citizenry to go out and buy (Cash for Clunkers notwithstanding) a new car. This specious logic, however persuasive on face, loses its appeal upon inspection." -- Kurt Nelson, Minnesota
Tumor tells her to stop taking life for granted
Heather Munro, a photographer and writer, describes the effect on her life of discovering that she has a brain tumor.
"I've tried hard not to let it be the thing that defines me, the thing that shapes my life. But the knowledge has changed me irrevocably.
"In some ways, it's been a gift: A little whiff of mortality can be a powerful aphrodisiac. Everything seems more meaningful and more poignant. Seeing what might kill me has made me feel more alive. But in other ways, it's been paralyzing. I've put off making some plans for the future. Every decision has come with a quiet but insistent bass line: 'What if, what if, what if?' ...
"I hadn't realized until recently just how much I'd surrendered to my fears.
"The first wake-up call came via Skype. I told my friend Jan, 'I wish I could live in Europe, if only for a while.' He replied, 'So why don't you burn your house and come over?'
"The second wake-up call came over sushi. 'I want to travel more and spend more time taking photos,' I told my friend Todd. He replied, 'Sometimes you've gotta burn down the house and just go.' ...
"I've decided that today is the best day of my life. And this is my year to shine."