Soccer and the Rise of Secular Religion

A Postdated Prologue

May 4, 2020 | During times of crisis it’s important to sympathize with those less fortunate and offer support within one’s means.  It’s important to acknowledge contingency, treat others with respect, and safeguard human dignity.  It’s also important to periodically step away from the situation.

COVID-19 has infected millions and claimed the lives of 250,000, but it has also become a virus of the human mind.  Just as the disease preys on those with compromised immune systems and preexisting conditions, it besieges a world rife with obsessive compulsive disorder and heightened anxiety.  Rather than responsibly cover the pandemic, the media has become a carrier, not informing but infecting.  COVID-19, in true viral fashion, has consumed all other subject matter.  So why not go-off topic and read something from the past to remind one of the anticipated future:

Soccer and the Rise of Secular Religion

April 26, 2014 | With the World Cup fast approaching, sportswear brands jockey for position, eager to cash in on the tournament by presenting themselves as part of the drama.  In this respect, athletic apparel companies become peddlers of ultimatums.  A recent ad by Adidas declares “Fast or fail, all in or nothing,” and shows the renowned Lionel Messi leaving a helpless, computer-generated defender in the dust.  The message: He who fails is subhuman—a digital mirage.  Glory and Adidas are one and the same.

Adizero F50 Adidas ad: Lionel Messi leaves a defender in the dust.

The folks at Nike Soccer follow suit, or do they lead the way?  Their “Risk everything” campaign recruits Cristiano Ronaldo among other superstars to reach new heights in integrated marketing.  The content of the campaign, however, smacks of amateur heroics and boyhood fantasies.  Professional athletes do not risk everything.  They are masters of calculated risk, knowing when to venture and when to conserve.  “Risk everything” constitutes a warped assessment of reality and sends an irresponsible message.  The backup plan?  None.  “If you go down in flames, at least you were on fire,” say Nike as part of their stadium advertising.  As if being fired up at a sporting event was somehow difficult or rare.

The extent of either/or thinking in any given society serves as a barometer of cultural decline.  Possessing convictions at the expense of considering the many gradations between extremes reveals an intellectually lazy and emotionally needy public.  As professional sports swell in popularity (arguably filling the void left by the disintegration of community) polarized mentalities become all the more common.  Sadly, the slogans promoted by Adidas and Nike go beyond the context of athletics yet rarely apply even there.  Perhaps such slogans merely echo what professional sports have become: modern-day rituals that fabricate scenarios deemed important, where suspended disbelief becomes belief in earnest.

Millions today follow soccer religiously, but any sport, in truth, makes for poor religion.  The yo-yo of the game may supply an allegory for life, but attaching oneself to that yo-yo is nothing short of anti-religious, not first and foremost but as a by-product of simplemindedness.  Granted, speaking of sport as a secular religion reflects a modicum of insight.  But those who believe that stadiums serve as temples and players suffice as gods are mistaken and may even be considered casualties of a spiritually deficient world.

Rags to riches stories, comparisons with democracy, and notions of social unity based on the kicking of a ball are indeed sad reflections of our confusion.  We exaggerate the stakes, equate intensity with truth, and only heighten our ignorance.  Why can’t we just enjoy a good contest?  Must we trade dignity for picking a side and playing out our most indulgent desires?  Are we really that empty, or, full of ourselves?

Contrary to popular sentiment, winning is not everything.  Games need competitors: winners and losers.  In other words, winners need losers and should honor their participation.  This logic naturally eludes those who denounce their opponents and submit to the seduction of the spectacle.  But even when the title, pennant, or cup has been won, “everything” is still not complete.  Within hours of victory, speculations emerge: What about next year?  Nike’s campaign for their Mercurial line of soccer cleats dramatizes this phenomenon, perhaps aiming to capitalize on the anxiety inherent in any competitive sport: “Last year’s success is today’s expectation.”  Which meaning of the word mercurial will prevail?  Quick and lively or volatile and subject to change?


Adizero F50 Adidas ad: Lionel Messi leaves a defender in the dust.
Fast or Fail: Glory and Adidas Are One and the Same

Nike Soccer Facebook page for the World Cup: Ronaldo, Neymar, Rooney.
Amateur Heroics: Nike’s “Risk Everything”

Nike ad: Cristiano Ronaldo points to the Nike logo on his shirt.
Nike: A Symbol of Victory or Anxiety?

Author: Todd Garlington

Urban spectator, Inner space cadet

4 thoughts

  1. Reblogged this on Silk Chatters and commented:
    Reblogging another great article by Todd Garlington over at the Images blog as I attempt to take a step back, however briefly, from the insanity that COVID-19 infected media and politics has become. I’ve previously posted a recommendation to Todd’s blog as he does an amazing job of analyzing the BS we’re fed by advertisers and the media. Never talked to the guy, but I feel like we’ve got similar outlooks on things.
    This article tackles the ever growing cult of worshiping athletes. Soccer players specifically, but the phenomena is hardly limited to them. Read, enjoy and expand your awareness.

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