I believe I’m a patriotic guy. I believe in first amendment rights. I am an Eagle Scout. I stand during the national anthem. However, I just can’t identify with most forms of patriotism that are presented today. I don’t like the idea that a flag pin automatically makes you patriotic. While I have the utmost respect for the men and women of the VFW and American Legion, I won’t be going to any of their meetings. And I think a lot of times “‘Murica” patriotism is just a form of merchandising that really doesn’t have any patriotic meaning other than to make money.
I found my patriotic niche at Soldier Field on Tuesday night. I was there for the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) soccer game versus Costa Rica in the Copa America tournament. Cheering on the national team gave me an authentic pride that I really have not been able to find in many other places.
My friend Jack and I got to the stadium about 90 minutes before kickoff. The stadium slowly started to fill. Many were wearing USMNT jerseys. A few wore blue blazers with white stars. An older couple dressed as Uncle Sam and whoever his wife is. It was a hoot.
The setup of the tournament was less than inspiring. The merchandise was overpriced and uninspiring. Beers were a little too expensive. The national anthems were tinny recordings. It felt like the organizers said, “We’re just going to try and make as much money as possible without really putting any heart in it.”
I kept telling Jack that I was extremely nervous. Partly it was for the fact that the US had loss the previous Friday to Columbia, so a loss on Tuesday would have been a deep hole to get out of. I also wanted to make sure we got our money’s worth from the experienced—the tickets weren’t cheap. Costa Rica controlled the first 10 minutes and it made me even more nervous.
And then there was a penalty in the box, which meant a penalty kick taken by Clint Dempsy. Goal. The US went on to win 4-0. One of my favorite parts about sporting events is when you get to high-five other fans that you don’t know after something good happens. It’s one of the few times there is an opening to interact with strangers. I love it.
While soccer is still usually takes a back seat to the other big sports, it’s fun to be seen on the sporting world stage. It’s fun to win on the global stage. I want my team to do well. I don’t make too many emotional investments in athletic teams anymore, but I’ll make an exception for the USMNT. It’s nice to see men and women, boys and girls of all ages get inspired by the teams. While many dream to be in the Olympics, I’ll remind you that the USMNT and the USWNT play every year, throughout the year.
I enjoy the dusty old traditions of parades and a band playing the national anthem. Those traditions can get taken for granted or else they’re just done with out any real heart in them. They feel like a formality, rather than an inspiration. Tuesday night was a good reminder on that. Cheering on the Red, White, and Blue and yelling U.S.A did not just feel like the cool thing to do. It was THE thing to do.