I have three kids, and I have resigned myself to the fact that they will never be sports fans in the way that I am a sports fan. They'll never waste time perusing box scores in the newspaper because newspapers are old and dead. They'll never pledge loyalty to one local team because they have fantasy teams and Red Zone Channel, making many different players and teams appealing to them. And they'll never be able to watch an entire football game without pausing for an hour to play fucking Minecraft.
This is not me pining for them to be TRUE sports fans; it's just me acknowledging that they will be a different breed of sports fan than I am—the kind of fan that I am largely familiar with. Sports are the byproduct of world boredom. They're what you play and watch because you have lots of free time and you want to do something with it, but not anything taxing or laborious. So you become a Royals fan, only to realize your terrible folly.
Kids today are not subject to anywhere near as much boredom. They have options. Endless options. They have so many options that I resent them for it. When I was a kid I watched Tranzor Z on a scrambled UHF station in Chicago. Not porn, mind you. Just a fucking cartoon. These kids live in the Garden of Eden by comparison.
I have tried to get my children into the NFL, and they tolerate it for minutes or so at a time, but explaining football to a kid is hard and exhausting. Frankly, I'd rather they just leave the room so I can watch the Vikings lose in peace. There are so many ads that the kids will inevitably whine and demand to watch an episode of Backyardigans during the interstitials. I also tried basketball, but the games were on too late. I took them to a baseball game once and someone left a shit on the back of the toilet in the family restroom at the ballpark. A really big one. Looked like a squirrel. They were scarred for life.
But then came this World Cup, and there was a legitimate breakthrough. I'm not just saying this because Deadspin is in the clutches of BIG LIBERAL SOCCER or anything: The World Cup, more than any other sporting event, is remarkably effective as a gateway drug for your children to get into sports. Here are a few obvious reasons why.
1. I don't have to explain anything. Ball goes in net, good. Ball doesn't go in net, bad. Man gets card because he bad. Easy peasy. Soccer fanboys will spend hours rhapsodizing about the nuances of pass sequences and the 4-1-3-1-1 vs. the 3-1-3-2-1, but kids give the zero-est of fucks about that. They just wanna know if someone scored—and that, thankfully, is all I need to explain. They will also then root for the team that's ahead, because children are all shameless frontrunners and are therefore the worst. My son specifically asks me which team is the favorite prior to every match so that he can choose a rooting interest. I may have him deported.
2. No ads. An ad is an excuse for a child to become distracted with one of the many entertainment options available to them: games, books, gadgets, chocolate, etc. Soccer forces them to keep their eyes on the screen, and this is good! I am a firm believer that screen time spent on sports is, from a mental-health standpoint, COMPLETELY different from regular screen time. If the kid is watching two hours of some asshole show like Jessie, they'll become terrible people. But watching Portugal get obliterated with Daddy? PRECIOUS BONDING MOMENTS.
3. I can easily sell the product. "Did you see that? FLÜRGEN BLÜRGENMÜRGEN ALMOST SCORED JUST THERE!" Whenever the kids start tuning out the game, I can just leap to my feet and pretend that half-assed shot from midfield was thissss close to going into the net. THAT WAS REALLY EXCITING, KIDS! And they buy it! God, they're suckers.
4. It's on during the day. And right after the end of the school year. Thank fucking God. The timing has been perfect. I need this tournament to be held annually, because summer vacation is the worst. Last night's U.S. game took place in the witching hours between 6 and 8. By the time they were finished talking during the entire game—seriously, they never shut up once—they were fast asleep.
5. It gives me a chance to summarize the history and culture of other countries in five seconds or less. This is the kind of extreme bullshitting that I enjoy most. "Oh, that's Argentina in the blue. They have a very problematic political history!" Say that to a child ONCE and it becomes gospel to them. It's an amazing moment. I feel like a god.
6. The games are extremely short. Listen, no kid today is gonna sit there for four hours watching an American League baseball game unless you work them over like a political prisoner, tying them to the chair and feeding them endless promises in exchange for their loyalty. I do not have to do this with these World Cup games. It's over and done in a tidy fashion, so that the child can then go do the things he or she really wanted to do in the first place. (Minecraft.)
7. You can easily recreate the game in the yard. I bought an official WC ball and now my child can represent the entire country of Chile—which he likes because they won their first game—for hours at a time. This is true of any other sport, but soccer out in the yard LOOKS more like actual soccer than yard baseball or yard football look like their respective sports. Also, stealing the ball from a 5-year-old never stops being fun.
I have groused about overeager soccer fanboys on Twitter in the past just like any other patriotic American, but this is the year I have finally turned. This is the year I have stopped FIGHTING soccer and fallen in line, and I've genuinely enjoyed it. People talk about sports as a way of connecting with your children, but that's a romanticized pile of shit. I'm not looking for a connection. Christ, I've bonded with these people enough for two lifetimes. No, no, I am looking for a way of destroying boredom, or trying to figure out activities that are as fun for my children as they are for me. And this stupid game—with all of its flopping and bad hair and monumental levels of shoddy officiating—is doing the trick. I have dreams in my head of traveling to distant stadiums wearing dumb scarves and drinking pints with my older kids and hooliganing together and adopting some awful PREMM-EER league, uh, side that will fall apart just as I'm bandwagoning onto it, and I'm oddly looking forward to it.
So thank you, FIFA, for bilking taxpayers and building useless Amazon stadiums just so I can have an alternative to Frozen on Blu-Ray. It's been much appreciated.
Drew Magary writes for Deadspin. He's also a correspondent for GQ. Follow him on Twitter @drewmagary and email him at email@example.com. You can also order Drew's book, Someone Could Get Hurt, through his homepage.
Image by Tara Jacoby.