After the final whistle ended a hard-fought World Cup match, Brazilian star David Luiz consoled Colombian star James Rodriguez.
They exchanged jerseys to show their mutual respect, and Luiz held Rodriguez close as the losing player wept in frustration.
This poignant moment was much more inspiring than a string of fouls, some intentional, that sent Brazil’s Neymar to the hospital and left players on both sides shouting in agony.
During play, soccer seems eerily like the world outside: opposing forces collide, do anything to gain advantage, bamboozle the game’s referees, shout in mock pain and real pain, challenge joints and muscles beyond their capacity, give everything for their nation’s cause — all while spectators whoop and holler in the safety of the stands.
Put black robes and decades of age on these players, and you have the U.S. Supreme Court waging its strange and arch battle for the soul of a nation, while passionate citizens cheer for their perceived “side” and partisans scour the rulings for advantage.
Put well-tailored suits on rivals and place them before microphones, and you have the U.S. Congress, which stopped governing years ago and now looks merely to win the perceived game, while increasingly rabid “fans” threaten mayhem and pour money onto the flames.
Turn the camera onto the coach as he paces the sideline, his options limited to calling out plays few players will hear, and you have the frustration of the Obama administration, as others wage battles for which the president will be held accountable.
Soccer is only a game, of course, and it follows certain rules and customs. One is that when the game ends, players thank the officials, exchange handshakes with opponents, and, as we saw in Brazil-Colombia, show respect that values skill more than uniform.
There the hopeful parallel between World Cup and world-as-it-is falls apart. For the “players” in our partisan wars show little respect for each other or willingness to let the contest end.
Five men on the Supreme Court break a deal made in chambers prior to the Hobby Lobby ruling and open the floodgates to dubious religious claims, mangling the First Amendment and threatening women and gays. The court’s three female justices cry out in rage at this betrayal. No hugs and signs of respect will end this court’s tragic term.
Congressional leaders gouge and kick each other without regard for civility. Republicans show utter and unrelenting contempt for President Obama, no matter how much their disdain hurts American interests overseas and poisons political waters at home. Moneyed interests buy loyalties, then feast on government favors.
Like soccer fans that can’t let the game end but pursue hatred and violence into the streets, out-of-control citizens unsatisfied with the rule of law take up assault rifles, baseball bats, and bullhorns to intimidate opponents like immigrants and minorities.
Showing respect for other players is seen as weak and unnecessary. Partisans corrupt third parties like science, media, and higher education by making them partisans, too. Religious zealots wave the flags of religion with alarming zeal, as if God’s Providence was wrapped up in one team’s trouncing all others. The actual seeds of faith are ground into rocky soil by jackbooted thugs.
In effect, no one is left to call a halt to the violence and insanity. Unlike a World Cup match, time won’t run out, and passions seem only to escalate.
Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant, and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the president of Morning Walk Media and publisher of Fresh Day online magazine. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.
Image: Brazil fans watch World Cup quarterfinal at the São Paulo Fan Fest - Brazil v Colombia on July 4, 2014. ©Ben Tavener via Flickr.