They Call Him Chicharito

Wednesday, March 30, 2011 | View Comments

- Jason Davis

Javier Hernandez is a joy to watch.

This fact disturbs me. Both because he's Mexican — meaning my dyed-in-the-wool USMNT supporter soul screams in protest each and every time I give myself over to enjoying his play — and because he has become a worldwide sensation with the eminently unlikeable Manchester United. The soccer-aware portion of my brain, my sense of duty as a USMNT fan, my identity as a member of the no-love-for-United crowd (I don't hate United, because that would imply I care enough about what happens in England to work up such strong emotion, when, in fact, I'm mostly an impartial observer who finds United's shenanigans and constant winning to be incredibly annoying but nothing more): they're all telling me to hate Javier Hernandez. And not just a little bit. There is significant emotional weight behind the effort.

There's more, too. That nickname for example, the one that translates to "Little Pea." Hernandez is not Brazilian, does not come from a culture with a history of one-name players, has no right to wear a shirt with the nickname on the back (or so I tell myself — these things are not really up to me) and hasn't achieved enough to warrant being known simply as...that. We make an exception for the Patos and Neymars of the world because going by a single name is a Brazilian right of passage, and because there were greats like Garrincha and Pele who paved the way. Last time I checked, Hugo Sanchez was just called Hugo Sanchez by the vast majority of the soccer world.

But there's something about Hernandez, something that overrides the hint of bile that crawls up my esophagus when he's wearing a Mexico shirt and the mild headache I get seeing him help Man United to victory. He has transcended his nauseating affiliations, given me reason to cast the dual problems of his club and country (these problems, by virtue of their very nature, do not sum in my world; they multiply) aside as a trifles.

It's not that I can rationalize my affinity for Hernandez, it's that doing so isn't important at all.  In other words, I'm shocked to find that I not only like him, it doesn't bother me that I do.

Why let petty bitterness rob me of enjoying what is clearly a special player? Hernandez's run of form is impossible to ignore, and while it's troubling that he's finding the net for Mexico from a how-the-hell-is-our-plodding-defense-going-to-stop-him-in-the-summer perspective, the pure talent and exuberance on display whenever he takes the field is exactly the type of thing that compels the soccer purists among us to wax lyrically about players like Hernandez being "why we love this game." Commentators with cultured accents drool over him. Maybe that explains their inability to pronounce his name correctly.

Did I mention the bitterness? Sure I'm bitter. I'm bitter Mexican fans have one of their own playing at one of the biggest clubs in the world. I'm bitter that not only is there a young Mexican on the books at United, he's rocketing to stardom there. I daren't dream what an American in a similar situation could do for the sport in the US. And yes, it certainly does cause me pain that the most popular soccer player here is from somewhere else. Neither the Mexican National Team nor Manchester United need help selling tickets when they head to America for lucrative tours, but now they're each certain to sell enough jerseys to clothe Switzerland as well. American dollars are being spent, elevating a Mexican footballer to a marketing stratosphere in the United States unfathomable for one of our own.

I suppose I'm able to come to this place of genuine affection for Hernandez because it's not his fault we have no young American talent ready to take a step towards similar heights. It's not his fault millions of people of Mexican background residing in America live and breathe the sport and specifically the national team of their homeland. Turning Hernandez into the embodiment of all of my frustrations with the way soccer is treated here, and then choosing to hate him because of that, would be like hating the Mexican auto worker because the American car industry collapsed.

If I'm truly an appreciator of the game, something more than a mere booster of American efforts to play it, then I have to have room in my experience to enjoy players like Javier Hernandez, no matter for whom they play. A goal is a goal, and while I'll despise Javier Hernandez if he should contribute to a USMNT loss at the hands of Mexico at any point in the future (you'll be happy to know that by admitting my appreciation of Hernandez in this very piece, I'm casting a spell that ensures Hernandez will never score against the Americans...I hope).

This is Derek Jeter, Tim Brown territory. There are a select few who are both good at what they do and worthy of my esteem despite the colors they wear. There are fewer still that I'll admit to enjoying watch play when they're helping their despicable teams succeed.

There, I said it, I like Javier Hernandez. As difficult as it is, as much as my cells rebel against my choice, in the grand scheme it's a fairly small thing to admit. Now that it's done, I feel relieved. I can watch him play — against anyone other than the United States, mind you — and enjoy what he does. Marvel at a preternaturally gifted footballer doing what preternaturally gifted footballers do when surrounded by players capable of getting them the ball. That's all Hernandez is.

As a matter of pride, however, I reserve the right to avoid using that nickname. Hernandez may have come by it honestly, but it's use smacks of marketing ploy.  I suppose my reluctance to call him by it is a petty thing, a sign that as much as I want to let go of my biases and that there's still a fiber that refuses to let me go all the way with my appreciation of him as a player. If I went all the way, I'd feel like too much of a sell out.

Calling him "Javier Hernandez" in light of my admission above will help me sleep at night. Maybe one day it won't seem as important to hold back. Let's term this a baby step.

A little, pea-sized step.

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