When Tiger Woods reached the final round of a major, we fist-pumped alongside him.
There is a solidarity that black people can find in celebrating the athletic success of our own, especially in sports where our existence is sparse. At my public school, in New Orleans, many of my friends, most of whom played basketball or football and had little to no interest in soccer, gaped at the quick succession of step-overs he would use to leave his opponent in the dust.
I was proud of them in ways that felt familial, no matter how different their worlds were from mine.
While we were mowing lawns on weekends to save money for the movies, Adu was starring in Nike commercials with Pelé.(The soccer legend once likened Adu to Mozart.) In high school, I made the all-city and all-state soccer teams.Our closeness in age had something to do, certainly, with the kinship I felt with him.I wanted him to succeed, just like I wanted my friends to succeed.Then the hype around Freddy began to subside, and it happened quickly. C., Freddy’s flourishes on the field were sporadic, and there were locker-room rumors about his work ethic and immaturity.
When he struggled to get time on the field, Freddy complained to the media, and D. United suspended him for a game during the playoffs.
About sixteen yards out from goal, Adu planted his right foot, pulled back his left, and brought that foot forward to strike the ball past the outstretched arms of the keeper and into the top left-hand corner of the net. I remember thinking that this is what we had been waiting for.
“We” meaning American fans of “the beautiful game”— as the Brazilians call it—a style of soccer that had eluded us for so long.
Or the roulette, in which a player, running at full speed, spins his body three hundred and sixty degrees atop the ball in graceful synchrony. America had never had an international black soccer superstar. Cobi Jones and Eddie Pope had been the faces of the M. Earnie Stewart and Tim Howard spent a number of years in Europe but never quite secured a place among the true global élite.
My childhood room was decorated with posters of black players from other countries, filling the space American players did not: Thierry Henry, Jay-Jay Okocha, Didier Drogba.
“As a fourteen-, fifteen-, sixteen-year-old,” he said, “you’re young, you’re immature, and you kind of get caught up in that a little bit . And it hurt me.” The interview is striking in its candor; you can feel the weight of Freddy’s disappointment in himself.