Brent Latham: USA-Mexico rivalry needs more respect

In his final column for, Brent Latham asks why fans of North America's biggest powers can't be a little bit nicer
This will be the last time you’ll see my name in this space for the time being, so I figured I’d do a little explaining. I haven’t always liked how things have gone in the area below this space; perhaps this is my last best chance to do something about it.

It’s been my job here for the last year or so to provoke you, and you’ve taken it well enough. Sometimes provocation hasn’t even been my primary intention, but the realities of writing a column in English about Mexican football these days mean just about anything on the subject is going to be controversial.

Even the writer. So for your future reference I’ll tell you a little about how I got to writing about Mexican soccer. It may be useful.

I’m not Mexican, but I’ve always appreciated the spectacle of the Mexican game at both the club and international level. I figure I have just as much of a right to be a fan of Mexican soccer as other do to be fans of English or Spanish soccer, and write about it. Tell me I’m wrong.

But my love for Mexican football was really ignited during the 1998 World Cup. Living in Atlanta - along with a huge community of Mexicans out on Buford Road, if anyone’s familiar - I used to play pickup soccer with Mexicans every Sunday afternoon.

Thos guys didn’t care what I looked like, they were happy to have me in their game (as long as I played well). I thought that was pretty cool, and we started hanging out sometimes at the bar after the games to watch the Mexican League and have some drinks and tacos.

That meant that when the ’98 World Cup rolled around, I was more emotionally involved with that colorful Mexican team - Cuauhtemoc, Luis Hernandez, Jorge Campos and the lot - than I ever could have been with the bland American bunch led by Steve Sampson. As an American, I’ve always been a U.S. supporter too, of course, but it hurt much more on that particular occasion to see El Tri drop a late lead to Germany, and fail to advance through the Round of 16, than to see the U.S. crash out in the group stage.

Since then, I’ve considered myself a supporter of both American and Mexican football. In fact, I’ll support any team from CONCACAF given the chance. There’s just something neighborly about it; and when you get into the passion and history in the sport of any country in the region, it tends to draw you in.

But lately, supporting the U.S. and Mexico at the same time has become harder to do - and not just for me. It seems this rivalry between the U.S. and Mexico, at least for some, is more about hatred and one-upmanship than wishing the other luck in a sportsmanlike way - at least when our team isn’t on the field.

That’s a shame. Because after so many great games, we should respect each other.

Football is a representation of society, its tendencies, colors, skills and even deficiencies. But the relationship is an abstract one, not a true one. A win on a football field does not validate a society’s superiority over another, or mean that GDP improves tomorrow.

It’s just a game. I’ll be the first to shout “football is life,” but what I mean is that it’s a part of any good life, not the essence of life itself. We can see our team lose a game, then go back home and our lives continue - or should - just as they always will have.

That’s why the best rivalries are those between two opponents who respect each other deeply. Hate only poisons the enjoyment of the competition. All of the world’s historic sporting rivalries have eventually developed into a mutual appreciation deeper than winning or losing.

To fully enjoy our national teams, we must get there in this U.S.-Mexico rivalry. Like it or not, these two great countries are neighbors for good. Both will continue to have their moments, but both will also continue to grow and prosper as soccer powers worldwide - it’s in the cards both demographically and culturally.

But the rivalry on the soccer field won’t truly bear fruit for our societies until fans on both sides can look each other in the eye with mutual respect rather than distaste or anger. Soccer at its best can make that happen. That’s what we need this rivalry on the field, in this great game we all love, to do for fans on both sides of the Mexico-U.S. divide.

These troubled times call for action around the game we all love. They call for us all to come together as friends, not enemies, in football. Sure, we’ll support one team or the other. But in the end, can’t the game bring us closer together instead of forcing us farther apart?

So as an individual, I invite you to take the first step. Be civil in addressing your fellow football fans, even supporters of your arch rivals. See the good in your opponent, the positive he brings out of you; see the good in your fellow human being.

Soccer is the avenue that brings us together. Let’s use this common forum -- here and elsewhere -- to understand each other and our commonalities, rather than to find more differences to argue about.