“I will always have the half-side of Germany in my heart, but all of us half players—and the coach, too—we will try to win this game for America. We want to get to the next round.”
These were Jermaine Jones’ words when he was asked about facing Germany on June 26. Jones is referring to the fact that he and four other teammates grew up in Germany with a German mother and a father from the US military. As offspring of GIs, they were guaranteed immediate US citizenship. But English is not their first language and all only joined the USMNT fairly recently. The article goes on to say that they also go through challenges to their commitment and sincerity in playing for the US: “Are these guys really Americans?
“Some of Klinsmann’s German-American players say they have seen comments on Twitter suggesting that they aren’t real Americans. To this they can only shake their heads. The same goes for U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati. ‘The thought that the sons of American citizens who are overseas because they are serving their country in the armed forces have less of a right to play for the United States than someone else is just absurd,’ he says. ‘That sort of thinking is everything America shouldn’t stand for. [These players] were American citizens the day they were born.'”
I was born in an Army hospital in Japan. My father was an American GI and my mom a Japanese national. Like most of the German-Americans on the National team, my relationship with my dad was hit and miss, with more miss than hit. Again similar to many of these players, my parents split up, but my mom and I had moved to the US when I was very little. While I have always considered myself to be an American, I have to say that there were many times when I felt less than fully accepted, and to be honest, it’s something I’ve never fully moved past. When you are the product of two cultures, on good days you can partake of either or both. But on other days you can feel like you have neither.
I thought about this connection with the National Team players after seeing this Tweet from a New York City sportswriter:
And there it was: more American than. It reminded me that there is a scale, and certain people will appoint themselves the arbiter of how American we all are, and the actual metrics will be secret but the results clear.
The World Cup is not that different from any game. There are two sides, and as a player I have teammates and I have opponents. An in-group and an out-group. Scrimmaging at practice, it’s easy to go from playing with someone to playing against them as the coach changes the sides and the rules. We automatically adjust; one moment you’re trying to make the other guy look good, and the next you’re trying to crush him into the ground. We understand that with me and against me are mutable concepts and we change behavior accordingly. But at the World Cup, the in-group is basically a mix of citizenship, birthplace, and parentage. The guys from Germany — Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson, John Brooks, Timmy Chandler, and Julian Green — qualify to play for us under the rules FIFA has set up. But that isn’t enough for some. As Noam Chomsky said, “Sports plays a societal role in engendering jingoist and chauvinist attitudes. They’re designed to organize a community to be committed to their gladiators.” And so we suffer from differing definitions of where the lines of our community are drawn. Is it only those “born and raised” here, or do we expand to acknowledge our laws that grant citizenship to guys like these five?
Many of the teams in the World Cup have done the latter and expanded the player pool. An article in the Global Post, whatever that is, illustrates which teams depend more on players born outside of their country. Some nations like Spain, Brazil, and Ghana are 100% made up of native-born players. But others like Germany, France, and Switzerland have rosters much like ours, for example:
While some like Frank Isola start to pick at the hem of our National Team, what is the contribution of the players born in Germany? (If we fully applied the “no immigrant” rule, we’d lose even more guys like Diskerud, Tim Howard, and Altidore).
- Jermaine Jones: probably our best player, assisted Dempsey’s goal v Ghana, and author of the best US goal of the tournament vs. Portugal
- Fabian Johnson: solid presence and right back, always a threat to get forward, cracking goal v. Turkey in the run-up
- Timmy Chandler: has not played
- John Brooks: late sub v. Ghana, scores the game-winning goal
- Julian Green:
has not playedSCORES VS BELGIUM WITH HIS FIRST TOUCH
These players have been involved in the key plays that put the US through to the Round of 16. Klinsmann has done an outstanding job using his knowledge of the Bundesliga to mine these five nuggets for our team. There is no question about their nationality, allegiance, or belonging. They’re as American as I am, and as American as Hamburgers and Frankfurters.
Also useful for this post: