Wow! Did you see that? No, not NBC telling Donald Trump that he was fired or Miley Cyrus posing nude again. I'm talkin' about the U.S. women's national soccer team putting a wrecking ball through Japan and winning its first World Cup in 16 years.
I'll own up to my soccer ignorance. I tried to learn the game when the Memphis Rogues were filling the Liberty Bowl back in the late 1970s, but that was more of a good excuse to sit with your rowdy friends and get blasted. I even tried to play the game back in grade school but I kept getting kicked in the shins, and I refuse to participate in any sport that causes personal pain. I like to watch it, though, and what I saw last Sunday was spectacular. In the words of finals attendee Joe Biden, "This is a big fuckin' deal." After that match I was thinking that maybe women ought to govern for a while. But then people would scream, "I want my country back."
My wife and I set aside all pending responsibilities to be certain we would be in front of the TV to watch this game, but almost before we could change the channel, the United States had scored. Then scored and scored and scored again. Our gesticulating and screaming frightened the dogs almost as much as the previous night's fireworks. When Carli Lloyd kicked that 54-yard goal, we lost our minds.
Has anyone ever seen a kick like that before? Maybe the NFL could polish its tainted image by hiring the first female field-goal kicker. Going in to the match, we didn't even know the players' names, but we do now. Lloyd, who had struggled in earlier matches, scored the fastest goal ever and had the first hat trick in World Cup history. Aptly named goalkeeper Hope Solo won the Golden Glove award for allowing only three goals in seven games. The U.S. women's national soccer team is the first to win three World Cups and in the process got payback for Japan's World Cup victory win in 2011. What an inspiration this must be for girls everywhere and for women's sports in general. People used to criticize soccer for lack of action. Not anymore.
Truth be told, I felt a lot more patriotic on the fifth of July than the fourth. I watched all the usual festivities and squirmed through Lee Greenwood singing "God Bless the USA" for the thousandth time, but I don't participate anymore, because downtown Memphis on the Fourth of July is no country for old men.
But we ate hot dogs with relish, both literally and figuratively, and as it turns out, it wasn't necessary to go downtown at all. The continual massive explosions around our neighborhood made us feel like we were right in the middle of the official display. The family pets turned into mad dogs, alternately howling at the ceiling or trembling in fear. There was a meme going around on social media that said that on the Fourth of July, the citizens of Memphis can play their favorite guessing game: Is it fireworks or gunshots?
The truth is, Independence Day, like Halloween, has become just another opportunity for grown people to get drunk and run wild. Is this the way we demonstrate patriotism? What those women did on that soccer field, playing for their country, was patriotic. The soldiers who serve us and the families that support them are patriotic. Blowing up shit is not patriotic.
In full disclosure, I'm not much of a patriot. Samuel Johnson in 1775, and Bob Dylan in 1983, said "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel," and I tend to believe them. Most of the patriotism I had was kicked out of me during the Vietnam War era, when we had a paranoid-schizophrenic president who refused to listen to legitimate protests or admit that he was wrong. I didn't feel very proud to be an American back then. When Nixon's conservative "Silent Majority" hijacked both what it meant to be patriotic and the American flag as symbol of the divisive "my country, right or wrong" sentiment, the flag turned into a pro-war symbol or a bumper sticker indicating loyalty to the administration. It was then when I realized that you can separate love of country from whoever happens to be in power at the time.
Politicians use patriotism for their own cynical purposes, so it's illogical to pledge allegiance to a transient regime with an ideological agenda. I can simultaneously love my country while opposing the politics of those who would use patriotism like a cudgel. But after that incredible victory in the World Cup, I have found something to be patriotic about — devoid of war, politics, or division — just joy. That group of women did their country proud, which is something we can all relish.
Randy Haspel writes the Recycled Hippies blog, where a version of this column first appeared.
In the 14 years I've been the Flyer editor, I've gotten lots of hate mail. It mostly used to come in envelopes filled with pages of scrawled handwriting. I read them and put them in the wastebasket, chalking it up as a natural by-product of writing for a liberal paper in the conservative South. Lately, the angry folks have switched to email, and it comes in waves ...