Guest Article today by Jason McAdams. St. Louligan & American Outlaw member with his thoughts on Landon Donovan. I think he captures a lot of our thoughts on Landon. Thanks Jason.
When I was in college, we had a guest speaker named Wole Soyinka, a Nigerian playwright, freedom fighter, former political prisoner, and Nobel laureate – referred to by many as “the African Shakespeare” – come to our theatre department to give a symposium. He spoke on many things for over an hour and was very enlightening, but one thing has stuck with me more than anything else. While speaking about his close personal relationship with Nelson Mandela, he mentioned that Madiba was a huge fan of – I shit you not – the South African version of Big Brother.
That’s right, Nelson Mandela, one of the most influential world leaders of the 20th century, an almost mythical figure in the fight for peace and racial equality on Earth…just could not get enough of a trashy reality TV show. It struck me that such a huge symbol in the world was just like my grandma, or maybe some of you, where after a long day of work, he just wanted to veg out on the couch, turn his brain off, and indulge his terrible taste in television. I had never thought about Mandela this way, and I bet you never have either. That someone who we just see on TV, we read about, sometimes argue over, and who we think we know so much about, could ultimately be just a man. A human being.
Enter Landon Donovan.
It shouldn’t have to be said but I’ll say it anyway: Landon Donovan is not as influential as Nelson Mandela. Hell, if we’re being honest with ourselves he’s probably not as influential as Nelson Munz. But in our bubble of American soccer, he’s as big as they come. The number speak for themselves (all-time leader in both goals and assists for the both the national team and MLS), the memories will last a lifetime (I had rehearsal the morning of the Algeria game and had to cut off all access to the internet until the 5 pm replay – I even duct taped the bottom of my TV to avoid the dreaded ‘Bottom Line’), and for many fans my age, the Landon Donovan era is all we know. The 2002 World Cup is why I became a soccer fan, the 2010 World Cup is why I’m became a true fanatic, and Donovan’s loan spells in England is why I’m an Everton fan. After The Cut, Bird actually asked me to write a piece like this honoring Landon, and even though I agreed, I simply could not bring myself to write it at the time – I still had a small voice in my head saying that someone would go down and Landon would pull through after all (though part of that comes from what I call my “Kurt Warner Syndrome,” but that’s another essay for another time).
For the often quoted demographic of “12-24” where ESPN says soccer is the 2nd most popular sport in the US, LD is on the short list of roots for their passion. Increased TV visibility of the EPL and other top leagues around the world? That all comes from the successes and subsequent popularity increase of the national team, led by Donovan. The rapidly growing audience and on field quality of Major League Soccer? Does not happen if a player of Landon Donovan’s quality doesn’t spend years putting in the leg work and being the flag bearer for the league, regardless of how he came back from Germany in the first place. The trickledown growth of the lower leagues that allow three different soccer leagues in America to thrive in nearly 40 different markets, including a city where more than a half dozen different pro teams have failed to succeed in the last 30 years? Yes that’s right – there’s no way we’d be getting ready for the inaugural season of Saint Louis FC without the rise of American soccer culture that can attributed in part to Landon Donovan.
Is Donovan a god? Obviously not (although if someone asks him that, YOU SAY YES!). He’s a human. A man who exists during the offseason. I don’t know what kind of television he likes, but I bet he has some embarrassing shit on his Netflix queue. And just like us, sometimes he has a shitty day. At some point he’s probably gotten sick. And like some of us, that sickness might not have been a physical one.
I’m by no means a doctor or a psychiatrist, but if you listened to the interviews he gave leading up to The Sabbatical, it didn’t take a degree to hear that something wasn’t right. One of my personal favorite things about LD is that he never gave bullshit, easy answers to the press, he always said what was on his mind & let his personality (such that it is) shine through. Between his national team duties, his play for the Galaxy which had stretched into December in back to back years, plus pre-season knockout games in the Champions League, and his Evertonian loan spells, he hadn’t had anything resembling an offseason in nearly an entire cycle. Perhaps no one has been as negatively affected by the MLS summer schedule. But it was more than that.
If Landon Donovan had missed that time because of a torn ligament, no one would have blinked an eye. If he had missed it due to an illness of some kind, we would’ve held vigils for him (an illness keeping him out 6 months would’ve been something pretty serious). But he missed it for mental reasons. Mental health is just as serious as physical health, but that fact seems to be completely disregarded in sports, where we’re just now starting to recognize the seriousness of concussions.
As supporters, our main job is to support the team first, whether it be club or country, and no one is bigger than the team. But the team is made of players. Players who are just as human as Landon Donovan, as Matt Bird, as Nelson Mandela. It can be easy to lose sight of that, but we should always try to remember that before condemning a player for off the pitch reasons. Should Donovan have just walked into the Brazil squad? Of course not. But should The Sabbatical have been the reason? Absolutely not, and to be fair I honestly believe that Jürgen is a big enough man that he didn’t let that be the deciding factor.
Landon Donovan’s ultimate legacy won’t be decided for several more years. But many seem to take a lot about him for granted. It’s one thing to just simply not like him – there’s really nothing wrong with that, especially if you’re an Earthquakes fan – but try to keep all of that in perspective, and recognize just how much our number 10 has meant to us.