When Jurgen Klinsmann left Landon Donovan off the US Men’s National Team squad, the first thing I though of was Ric Flair. The more I read about how Donovan would provide leadership, or be a supersub the more Ric Flair seemed the best way to understand what the Human Interest approach to sport has wrought.

Screen Shot 2014-05-24 at 12.57.40 pm

Back in 2003, Ric Flair had a career renaissance. He even had a brief run at the Big Gold Belt. At the heart of the feud was the question, does Ric Flair still have it in him?

Then, a few years later, Flair was once again at the heart of a narrative about his ability to still get it done in the ring. There are a number of moments in the lead-up to his Career-Threatening Match at Wrestlemania against Shawn Michaels that show one thing that pro wrestling does so well: it understands how our memories of performers colour our perceptions of them.

Pro wrestling can have a moment like the go-home promo between Michaels and Flair, in which Flair gives a history lesson on his career and links those achievements to his upcoming match. He brings out the NWA title he won almost thirty years previous, a gesture that both indicates how old he is and how much greatness he brings with him. That greatness creates The Nature Boy. And when HBK calls Flair Old Yeller, and says that he’s going to take him behind the woodshed and put him out of his misery, putting in place a narrative that acknowledges that Ric Flair when he’s The Nature Boy, when he’s Naitch, anything is still possible.

The most common reason for having Donovan on the roster was that he would come off the bench in the 80th minute and score the game-winning goal when the team needed it, is the very sort of Human Interest narrative that pro wrestling makes its money off.  But professional football is not professional wrestling. The level of cooperation that made Flair’s last couple of runs at the top of the card possible – wrestling being fake and all – is not present in the World Cup. I sincerely doubt that Philipp Lamb or Fabio Coentrao or any player on Ghana’s squad will sell Donovan’s offense.

Advertisements