The year was 2006. The 18th annual World Cup was on the horizon, to be hosted by Germany. Brazil, as they are every year (including this year), were the favorites to win. They wouldn’t—that prize would eventually go to the Italians who beat France in penalty kicks after a thrilling and scoreless extra time. Throughout that tournament alone, though, it’s estimated that almost 30 billion people watched, making it one of the most watched events in history. Note that is “events” and not “sporting events.” To planet earth, watching dudes kick a ball around on an open field was more important than witnessing our species take flight into motherfucking space.
Here in the Land of the Free though, you couldn’t get SportsCenter to dedicate more than a passing opinion on the world’s game. It’s not much better these days—most American sports anchors’ thoughts on the World Cup seem to be “It’s happening” and “Can I talk about baseball?”—But ESPN at least decided to lede with the World Cup when I was watching this morning. Regardless, back in 2006, everyone really didn’t give a fuck so in order to generate some hype, Nike took one of the coolest things in the world—rap music—and paired it with one of the coolest (and best) American soccer players—Clint Dempsey (he has tattoos!)—and basically said, hey, make some dope rap music to make people think soccer is dope so when kids tell their parents they want to play soccer (because they will, because soccer is the biggest youth sport in America) moms and dads everywhere will buy the cleats with the funny little swoosh on them.
And so, a rap video was born. Adopting the name Deuce, Houstonian Dempsey teamed up with fellow Texan rappers Big Hawk and XO and released “Don’t Tread,” an anthem of being awesome at kicking a ball in a net while you’re pounding your chest for Uncle Sam.
Before he became Deuce, it'd always been known that Dempsey was a fan of hip-hop. And this video, despite being made as an advertisement for a brand, illustrates a deep understanding of the culture, especially his hometown of Houston. For starters, Big Hawk, with whom he's rapping, was a founding member of the Screwed Up Click, and Hawk is also wearing a shirt that reads "RIP Fat Pat," paying tribute to his brother (another founding member of the group—and it should be noted that the same year "Don't Tread" released, Big Hawk was shot and killed in Houston). In one of the verses, Dempsey shouts out DJ Screw specifically, and the entire music video seems to focus on repping southern culture and making it out with the merits of your talents, whether that's as a rapper or a soccer player.
Plus, the fact that Dempsey made a passable rap song with a Screwed Up Click member kind of makes him loosely affiliated with Screwed Up Click, which means that THE U.S. MEN'S NATIONAL TEAM IS AFFILIATED WITH DJ SCREW. With this knowledge—combined with the heavy "fuck you America rules"-Libertarian-esque vibes of the song's lyrics—even if you don't care about sports, suddenly it's apparent that if you have any sort of red, white, and blue running through your veins, you must root for Clint Dempsey and his All-American Duece persona, hoping that he not only scores goals in the face of every single opponent, but then jumps up and raps some line about making it to the top, being the greatest, and fucking someone on a mink rug while doing so.
This video was only recently introduced to my life. Somehow, probably because I had just graduated high school and didn’t give a damn about anything except not being in high school anymore, I missed the clip when it first popped up in 2006. So if you’re going into this blind, let me tell you. It’s exactly like what you would imagine a rap music video made by a soccer player who isn’t actually a rapper would be like. On top of spitting as hard as he possibly can (read: I’m not saying that’s good), Clint—err, sorry, Deuce shows off his skills as a soccer player. (Spoiler: he's really good at soccer.)
And then he shows off his skills as a driver. (Spoiler: he's pretty good at driving.)
And then he shows off his skills as a head nodder. (Spoiler: he is kind of basic at head nodding.)
On the field, Dempsey is no doubt a baller—before transferring back to the MLS this past year, dude was one of the leading scorers in the English Premier League (which is like the NFL for soccer, you numbskulls)—and is pretty ferocious with his style of play. Moreover, he worked very hard to get where he currently is, despite coming from a not-so-well-off family in the south.
But despite that, for awhile, I honestly couldn’t decide whether or not "Don't Tread" is super hard or super lame. I watched it over and over again. And it suddenly hit me. Even though Deuce can't really rap and doesn't have much of a flow and he's dressed funny (even for 2006) and has lyrics like “with determination we came from the bottom / and rose to the top,” “think soccer ain’t a sport / then why’d Nike sign me?,” and “this ain’t Friday Night Lights / but I got the infrared,” there's still something really fucking awesome about this video. It's inspiring.
Fuck yeah, America!
Look at it this way, Dempsey is a professional athlete and professional athletes, like rappers, tend to be inherently really cool despite being pretty stupid. Ever watch an interview with a professional athlete? They’ll tell you about leaving it all out on the field, about how they are looking to the next one, about how they aren’t thinking about the past, about how they’ve been working really hard, about how they’re a team player. Ever read an interview with a rapper? They’ll tell you about leaving it all in the studio, about how their next release will change everything, about how the stuff in the past doesn’t matter, and about how they wouldn’t be there without their team of support. And despite these two groups of people having literally nothing to say, we continue to invest millions and millions of dollars into both sides, have websites like Noisey and VICE Sports dedicated to covering each group exhaustively, and try to make everything about each matter a whole lot more than it actually does.
So here we are, watching a video of Clint Dempsey rapping on the day that the World Cup kicks off, and feeling super inspired. What does that mean about our society? It means exactly that: we’re watching a video of Clint Dempsey rapping on the day that the World Cup kicks off.
God help us all, and God bless the United States of America.
Eric Sundermann thinks if the U.S. makes it out of the group stage that's essentially the equivalent to winning the Super Bowl. He's on Twitter — @ericsundy
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