On Friday, a World Cup qualifying match will take place in Columbus, Ohio, between the U.S. and Mexico, and you are going to read a lot about what this match means. The sports significance is obvious: it's the first match for both teams in the final round of qualification. A win for the U.S. on home soil would continue their recent dominance against their rival. For Mexico, a road win against the U.S. would help build confidence for a team still trying to adjust under manager Juan Carlos Osorio.
What the match means beyond that depends on what you want to believe or what symbolism you want to cram into a sporting event. Many articles are pushing out a narrative that the match will be indicative of a larger struggle, Mexicans against Americans in the backdrop of the recent presidential election. The thought is that since Donald Trump was elected to office on a rather anti-Mexico platform, Friday's match between the U.S. and Mexico will become embroiled in some of this rhetoric, an electoral process will play itself out on the field.
While we don't know yet what Trump's victory means for Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, or Americans, for that matter, and may not know for a long time, we do know is that it has no significance for Friday's match. Remember, a game is a game, and real life is real life; let's not confuse the two. People's lives and livelihoods are at stake, and it has nothing to do with whether Christian Pulisic or Javier Hernandez scores the deciding goal. You are trivializing these very real world implications by suggesting that a game matters in the grand political scope of things. What it means to be Mexican, what it means to be American in this new reality, are large philosophical questions that won't be answered at the end of a 90-minute soccer match. Will there be fans from both sides who chant hurtful things? Certainly. Has this happened previously without the backdrop of politics? All the time. It is the sometimes ugly nature of this rivalry.
Any heavy-handed narrative pieces that would have you believe otherwise are dangerous, and irresponsibly play with people's emotions at a time when everyone is feeling charged up one way or another about the current political climate. In a way, these stories fuel the very sentiments they are claiming already exist. If you tell people enough times that this match means more than a game, and that the opposing fan sitting next to you really is an enemy, and that they might hurt you, then people will start to believe it. And to what end? For ratings? For website traffic numbers?
There is nothing wrong with being excited about a rivalry game between two equal opponents, or to dissect the on-field tactics of how the teams will play. Enjoy the win or anguish over the loss, regardless of what side you're on. But let's stop suggesting it means more than that. This is not an argument against sports sometimes being reflective of society. All of us in sports media often cling to that belief, which certainly at times is relevant. But in this situation, people are claiming sports is exactly like society, which it is not. No matter who wins, the game will have had no real effect on what's about to happen in the U.S. or in Mexico. Because none of us really know, and won't know after Friday's soccer game.