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You can't take politics out of USA vs. Mexico

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Soccer: 2018 FIFA World Cup Qulafying-Mexico at USA Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Vice Sports’ Jorge Arangure Jr. recently wrote an article titled Stop Politicizing A Soccer Match Between The U.S. And Mexico. Arangure claimed that positioning the game — which Mexico won, 2-1 — within the political context of Donald Trump’s recent election victory was heavy-handed and irresponsible: “You are trivializing these very real world implications by suggesting that a game matters in the grand political scope of things.”

The thrust of the argument is that politics and the game, though they may sometimes intertwine, are not related, especially not here; therefore to say the game is political or a reflection of the grander world is a lie. “No matter who wins, the game will have had no real effect on what's about to happen in the U.S. or in Mexico,” Arangure concluded.

I agree writers should be careful of overstating the importance we assign to these games, which are almost always inconsequential. But the notion that sport can’t be politicized is silly, because that suggests there’s a chance it might be free from the political world.

International soccer is one of the purest forms of nationalism. One country against another. Mexicans against the Americans. That’s political. Most intense international rivalries have political roots: Scotland and England, Armenia and Azerbaijan, El Salvador and Honduras, Chile and Peru, Japan and South Korea, England and Argentina.

Thirty years after scoring via the infamous “Hand of God” against England in the 1986 World Cup Final, Maradona justified both the handball and Argentina’s aggressive play that day by saying they played the game with boots and rifles, and that the win was payback for what the English had done to the Argentines in the Falklands.

"It felt like we had done justice,” he said. “Well maybe not justice, but made good for the mothers who had lost sons in the Falklands.”

It’s true that these games don’t need to be politicized from the outside, but that’s only because they’re political by nature. The assumption that you can give or take away political context from these games, or life in general, is deeply flawed. It’s an error to think that there’s any aspect of human life that avoids the political.

George Orwell perhaps said it best in his essay Politics and the English Language: “In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.”

The simple act of drinking water, regulated by the FDA, is a political act. One’s choice of food is political. Driving a car, crossing the street, taking medicine, going to the hospital, renting an apartment, going to school, being in love, dying and the manner, costs and subsequent insurance from your death are all political. They all have governmental or social regulations, honed and refine by the body public. Even the most personal thoughts have political context. The things we think of doing are often not the same as the things that we actually do, because we have to abide by the social norms that govern us. Life is political.

As a black man in America, every day that I am able to wake up, to work and live, to have the relative freedom to even attempt to chase my dreams (or to simply have a job) is made possible because of the 13th Amendment. Anything and everything that I do must then be inherently political.

An international soccer game is not political only because of the history and tensions between two nations, but because the players themselves are political creatures . One example: Giovani Dos Santos is a Mexican who plays in California, a state that released the following after Donald Trump’s election:

“California is — and must always be — a refuge of justice and opportunity for people of all walks, talks, ages and aspirations — regardless of how you look, where you live, what language you speak, or who you love. California has long set an example for other states to follow. And California will defend its people and our progress. We are not going to allow one election to reverse generations of progress at the height of our historic diversity, scientific advancement, economic output, and sense of global responsibility.”

Dos Santos’ life and employment in that state, embedded in a country with a president-elect who once generalized Mexicans as rapists and criminals, is political. So too is the life of the USMNT’s Omar Gonzalez, the son of Mexican immigrants. Even the choice of venue is political: The game being played in Ohio, one of the swing states that ultimately decided the election, adds political context.

Arangure doesn’t just miss that all actions are inherently political. He makes another mistake here: “No matter who wins, the game will have had no real effect on what's about to happen in the U.S. or in Mexico.”

Most political acts, like most human acts, have no real effect on the grander life. We are, after all, just dust specks in the universe. Many of us don’t change history and most political acts don’t either, but that doesn’t negate them. After reading his article, I asked fans of the Mexican national team if they wanted to win this game more now because of the result of the election. This was one of the answers:

Some U.S. fans were even rooting for Mexico because of it:

These feelings matter. So does political art, like Capitalism Works for Me! by Steve Lambert and music, like It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back from Public Enemy. So too do small actions like the victim of racism calling his abuser a hurtful name in reaction to his own powerlessness. The reaction won’t fix racism, nor will the music and art change much. They still have meaning. The result of a soccer match won’t change the dangerous complexion of Hispanic life in the United States now, but that doesn’t divest it of its meaning either. Small, emotional victories are one of the only avenues by which the abused, the weak, the threatened can assert some form of power over their abuser and over that harrowing reality through which they move. Actions don’t have to have a lasting effect to be meaningful; momentary empowerment to those feeling oppressed is justification enough.

The call for writers to be careful in how we contextualize this match was understandable, but the game was pregnant with political meaning regardless of external commentary. Before the game, the Mexican and the American players came together and stood as a single group for the team picture. That was a political statement:

I watched the game from the American supporters’ section behind one of the goals. In the second half, after Bobby Wood had equalized for the United States, one fan tried to start a “Build The Wall” chant. He was quickly shouted down by those around him. Though that reprimand won’t change anything in the grand scheme, it too was a meaningful political act.