The Corinthian Spirit

I have noticed that as we watch soccer in America we are instantly transformed into Victorian gentlemen, complete with top hat, tailcoat, and patronizing attitude towards the working class. We become champions of the Corinthian spirit, where participation in sport is for the love of the game rather than hope of gain. When we see a player endeavor to gain an advantage by exaggerating a foul (“flopping” in the American parlance) or rolling on the grass in feigned agony, we click our tongues and adjourn to the study for cigars and sherry to discuss the purity of sport and former glories on the playing fields of Eton.

It’s bizarre that as we inject more and more money into professional sports (Cristiano Ronaldo earns $408,000 a week after taxes), we expect players to uphold the sportsmanship and ideals of the early founders of the game. One example I often see held aloft is that of Corinthian FC, who would refuse to score from penalty kicks as they found the practice “ungentlemanly.” Corinthian FC’s charter included a prohibition on competing for any cup or prize, as the act of playing the game was rewarding enough; Corinthian’s players could afford to be rewarded by love for the game rather than money, as they were exclusively drawn from the upper classes – think a starting eleven of Lord Granthams and you’re on the right track. In the modern game we are full of indignation about Ashley Young of Manchester United diving to win a penalty, but there’s not much of an outcry as Wayne Rooney, who is paid $371,000 a week to score goals, converts it. If we want to see modern athletes uphold the standards of Victorian gentlemen, we should start paying them as such, i.e., with sporting glory and not cash.

While I don’t condemn professional athletes for trying to gain an advantage through what is euphemistically called “the dark arts,” it isn’t particularly edifying, and that’s what is becoming increasingly important to me. More and more, I’m convinced that the overarching goal of parenting is to produce a child that is a better version of yourself; I want to see my sons embrace love and goodness in ways I never did, and I want to see them conduct themselves far more gentlemanly on the soccer field than I ever did. I still remember my father’s disappointment when I demanded to be substituted after arguing with a referee and refused to continue playing.

I would rather see my son playing for the love of the game, encouraging his teammates, sincerely congratulating his opponents on a terrific game, and exiting the field of play with a smile than to see him cheating his way to earning $21.8 million a year turning out for FC Barcelona. That being said, if he did earn that contract with Barca, he could buy me and my friends plenty of cigars and sherry for my study as we talk about how the youth of today disrespect the traditions of the game.

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