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The Absolute State Of The Nation, With Tom Ley

4:19 PM EST on December 1, 2022

Christian Pulisic of the US Men's National Team prepares to take a corner kick in the team's win against Iran in the 2022 World Cup.
Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images

There is something liberating about watching a sport you don't really know very much about. It's humbling, too, but after you've been reminded enough times how little you know about the sports you thought you did know something about that part just becomes background noise. I can understand a World Cup soccer game in more or less the way that I imagine dogs understand music—I am attuned to changes in tempo and volume, and I can make out some distinctions in terms of color and brightness, but for the most part it is just something that is happening to me in a way I'm more or less cool with. Even when I have some sort of vested rooting interest, as I did during the (actually pretty good) USMNT's impressive and infuriating and ultimately successful pursuit of a knockout-round berth, I was feeling all kinds of feelings while only sort of knowing what I was seeing, and what it meant. This was something like playing a dog a System Of A Down song, maybe: You don't have to get everything about the experience to realize that a lot of things are happening, and very intensely at that.

It was with that idiocy in mind that Drew and I had Defector EIC Tom Ley on the podcast this week, where we tasked him with attempting to translate all that into something more like actual understanding. This is not an easy task, but in the first half of the show Tom did a pretty excellent job explaining to a pair of bona fide Soccer Idiots what kind of team the U.S. is, and where they land on the broader continuum of international sides, and why they do the things they do and can't do the things they can't. It was all very lucid and illuminating, and while I don't expect it to make the games any easier or less anxious to watch, I believe the conversation will help me to understand it all a bit better. "Yes," I will say, nodding my floppy spaniel head as I watch Sergiño Dest dribbling around, "this is the guitar solo part."

I was on more certain footing in the back half, where the conversation turned to two things I know more about: dumb shit happening currently in the NFL, and the website Defector. A vigorous if somewhat poignant session of Guy Remembering involving the NFL's one-and-done coaches led us into a discussion of just what the hell various NFL teams are even doing, with some special attention paid to the Denver Broncos (a team that Tom does not cheer for, despite being from Colorado) and the Houston Texans (a team that has been the living apex of what-the-hell-are-they-doing for what feels like a decade now). We talked about sought-after free agent Odell Beckham Jr.'s strange set-to with a flight attendant last week, but mostly in ways that wound up reinforcing our respect for the shit that flight attendants have to put up with; Drew got to do his Jerry Jones voice, here, which may be the reason this segment made it into the show rundown at all.

The Defector chat was both triumphal and not quite as triumphal as I feared. In retrospect, it is pretty peerlessly on-brand that, after a brief bit in which we all expressed our pride and delight in this site remaining not just solvent but successful, we mostly found ourselves talking about how annoying jobs are. And while this is a job, and has all the deadlines and frustrations and shortcomings that jobs have, it is also this—a place of our own, where I can get on a Zoom call and talk about sports I know very little about, learn a little something, say something stupid in a Ray Liotta voice, and still bring it all in under an hour. As work goes, I have sure done worse.

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