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Greatest U.S. national sports team has its bilingual critics

By John Burbridge

The cross-pollination of words among languages often comes down to economy and efficiency.

Take the German word Schadenfreude.

It means “the experience of pleasure, joy, or self-satisfaction that comes from learning of or witnessing the troubles, failures, or humiliation of another.”

For those who don’t speak German, proper enunciation of schadenfreude (pronounced shaa-duhn-froy-duh) may take some tongue-in-cheek exercises. But those who can linguistically master it may avoid wordy explanations relating one’s feelings about an adversary’s ruin while possibly not coming across so much as a mean-spirited jerk.

The Olympics tend to nudge the world closer to bilingualism whenever interviews with medal-winning athletes get simultaneously translated during the broadcasts allowing attentive viewers to pick up on a few foreign words. And when the United States Women’s National Soccer Team lost to Canada 1-0 in the semifinal round as it eventually had to settle for a subsequent bronze-medal win over Australia, “schadenfreude” became the international word of the day — not just even among the U.S. “fans”, but especially among them.

Social media erupted into a Schadenfreude Fest. It was brewing ever since Team USA lost to Sweden 3-0 in the opening round of group stage, ending a 44-match unbeaten streak.

Karma, another foreign word — this one from the Sanskrit classical language — was also referenced repeatedly during the gleeful cyber-celebration of the team’s stunning defeat to Sweden.

Again, this was mostly generated by the team’s fellow countrymen, several of whom personally branded themselves as “patriots” only to spew bile at women representing our country like they were … um … “The Patriots”.

Yet comparing the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team to the New England Patriots may be a little unfair … to the USWNT, which is arguably the greatest sports team ever to represent this country on a dynasty scale.

You can arguably also say that about the U.S. Men’s Basketball Team, which fielded “Dream Teams” for the 1992 and 1996 Olympics. But it’s an argument I don’t think you should win. Yeah, U.S. Men’s Basketball is on its way to a 13th Olympic gold medal, but there have been too many head-scratching if not humiliating losses let alone lackluster wins over underwhelmed underdogs in the past three-and-a-half decades of international play starting with the 1988 Seoul Games, which prompted the country to call on its resident NBA superstars to save face.

I may be nitpicking about U.S. Men’s hoops, but the USWNT resume is almost embarrassing in its achieved riches. Formed as recently as 1985, the U.S. women have since won four Olympic gold medals, four FIFA World Cup titles, and eight CONCACAF and Gold Cup championships while compiling a record of 544 wins, 68 losses and 80 draws.

A team like that should give jingoistic fans reason to pound their chests while proudly waving Old Glory.

But therein lies the grievance. During the aforementioned opening round, women’s soccer teams representing the U.S., Sweden, Britain and Chile took a knee at the start of their games to protest racism, discrimination and inequality.

In one of the schadenfreude-themed posts after the loss to Canada, the U.S. Women were referred to as “spoiled brats” who ungratefully fail to acknowledge the reason why they are regularly so dominant is that they enjoy the freedom, opportunities and resources not afforded to their opponents from other countries.

(Another reason for the USWNT’s sustained success could be that many team members grew up playing organized soccer with boys, even all the way through the high school varsity level.)

If well-behaved women really don’t make history, then they likely also don’t get compensated and treated like men. At least you can say the systemic bad behavior more frequently displayed by the USWNT as of late has made some inroads in regards to discrepancies in pay as well as in training, travel and playing conditions compared to the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team, which — by the way — has no World Cup titles or Olympic medals in any color.

Recently, Congresswomen Doris Matsui and Rosa DeLauro introduced the Give Our Athletes Level Salaries (GOALS) Act to ensure the U.S. women are paid fair and equitable salaries compared to the U.S. men with the threat of withholding 2026 World Cup federal funding if the U.S. Soccer Federation doesn’t comply. It was introduced on March 8, 2021 — the two-year anniversary of when 28 members of the USWNT filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the federation.

But still, isn’t it great that these “brats” squandered all the beloved goodwill they basked in circa 2015 because they couldn’t refrain from embracing and forwarding their victimhood while championing other so-called victims?

Even if they did play nice while honoring the International Olympic Committee’s apolitical mandates to a tee and not raising too much hell back home, the U.S. women soccer players were eventually going to get smacked by Schadenfreude anyway. It’s the natural fate for champions, defending champions and potential champions who normally can’t win them all at some point. Some even brazenly call-out their forthcoming detractors.

When the 1985 Chicago Bears recorded “The Super Bowl Shuffle” as well as shooting the video for it the day after their lone loss to the Miami Dolphins, they were just daring the Schadenfreude Army to come storming out of the Hurtgen Forest whenever it got the chance. As it turned out, the Bears “shuffled” their way to a Super Bowl XX title, and the song became a Grammy-nominated hit.

But that just delayed the inevitable. When the Bears lost to Washington in the first round of the following playoffs, a spoof of the song hit the charts in places like Brown County, Wisconsin.

One of the verses went something like this: I’m Doug Flutie, and I’m real cute/I’m the starting QB because I lick the coach’s boot.

Clever. It would have been more clever if the spoof was entitled “The Schadenfreude Shuffle” — but the word had yet to cross the Atlantic.

Now it’s American as Pie.

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