Everything good and necessary—except the affections we pass among ourselves, the sun rising or setting over great beautiful landforms—has been thoroughly exploited. This seems the endpoint of capital-driven technological development: not a utopia in which machines handle our labor, heal us at little cost, fill gaps in our intelligence, but where the text of a newspaper report, the institution itself force-fed debt and staggering in a daze, seizes and starts and waterfalls down the screen, ads for car insurance and dubious health supplements populating fresh interruptions within the text like a late-arriving theater crowd. 

An ampule of profound disorientation is injected even into simple tasks. Last week, my efforts to find restitution on some food that didn't arrive prompted a 90-minute dialogue among myself, the restaurant, and the delivery service over Who Was Responsible. This was my mistake; I raised complaint without accounting for the density of the bureaucracies involved, one hiding opaque and perhaps needlessly proprietary information from the other, the intentions of everybody, from everybody else's viewpoint, appearing like far-off headlights or the shapes of marine creatures beneath the ocean's diffusive surface. I just wanted my sandwich or my twelve bucks back.

Most stuff is just sort of broken now, or at least abundantly tacky. Unserious, but not fun. Optimized, but weirdly spastic and cheap-feeling. It is a small comfort to know that people have thought this for a long while, like it's The Worst It's Ever Been. (I would argue we're all, screaming from within our discrete points on an ever-plunging trendline, correct.) The truly original Uruguayan historian and novelist Eduardo Galeano published his first version of Soccer in Sun and Shadow in 1995. Its second section, "Soccer," begins like this: "The history of soccer is a sad voyage from beauty to duty. When the sport became an industry, the beauty that blossoms from the joy of play got torn out by its very roots." That's how the leftist aesthetes understood the game during the Clinton era. It has not exactly become less commercialized, since then. Newcastle United is owned by Saudi Arabia. Barcelona play at the Spotify Camp Nou.

But there is still, almost refreshingly, a skein of cigar smoke momentarily intruding through a pall of sewage funk, good old fashioned boys' club corruption. This is the kind of thing Galeano writing in 1995—and really, a Roman peasant toiling before Christ's birth—would recognize. It's an evil that has never left us, grafting itself over millenia onto increasingly state-of-the-art social and economic maladies. This is the force that birthed and sustained Luis Rubiales, the widely loathed and currently suspended head of RFEF, Spain's national soccer federation.

The general public is just now becoming familiar with Rubiales, who took the occasion of Spain's first women's World Cup title to sexually assault Jenni Hermoso, clamping his mitts onto the back of her skull and kissing her on the lips during the after-match celebrations. There's ample reason to know Hermoso, she's one of the best players the women's game has ever seen, but Rubiales is a relatively obscure figure. The mobbed up cafe creatures that inhabit posts like his are, besides the negative effects their greed and caprice have on the sport, pretty unremarkable people. They're more like crooked small town mayors than eminences. They work twenty-hour weeks, including the time they spend in stadia stands across Europe, checking their phones and making small talk with other rich men in crisp, washed out oxfords. These dudes are vain and petty and, despite occasional claims to the contrary, seem only sort of interested in the sport they're tasked with stewarding.

It would be a stretch to call Rubiales more corrupt and embarrassing than any other national federation head, but he's got a respectable record. A mostly Segunda-level defender throughout his playing career, and a players' union boss shortly after retiring, he assumed the RFEF presidency in 2018 after his predecessor, Angel Villar, was arrested on suspicion of embezzlement. One of the first things he did was fire Julen Lopetegui from the Spanish national team, on the literal eve of the men's World Cup, for the crime of announcing that after the tournament, he would be taking over as manager of Real Madrid. (To blame Rubiales for Spain subsequently crashing out in the first knockout round would be giving him too much credit. That 2018 team simply wasn't very good.)

Since then, Rubiales has regularly beefed with the equally unsympathetic La Liga chief Javier Tebas, a miserable creature who does occasionally raise good points about the absurdity of Rubiales, say, moving the Spanish Super Cup to Saudi Arabia. (You'll be shocked to learn that deal was not on the level.) Rubiales has also been accused of assaulting a woman architect in his employ, and using RFEF funds to pay rent on his home and throw sex parties featuring "8-10 young girls." When 15 Spanish women's team revolted against manager Jorge Vilda in September 2022, claiming in so many words that their coach created a wretched work environment, RFEF backed Vilda and came down hard on its talent, announcing in a statement that the aggrieved players would be banned from playing for Spain until "they accept their mistake and ask for forgiveness.”

That's the kind of instinctive rank-closing we saw from RFEF initially. After FIFA suspended Rubiales for at least 90 days following not just his assault of Hermoso but a defiant Mussolini On The Balcony-style presser in which Rubiales refused to resign while being cheered on by an assemblage of RFEF lackeys, the Spanish federation asked UEFA to ban its clubs from intra-European competition, making the bold assertion that the organization would rather kneecap Barcelona and Real Madrid than remove its president. RFEF, presumably after getting a volcanically angry call from Florentino Perez, later backpedaled and asking Rubiales to step down. The lizard mind topography of the people who make up these rotted-through bureaucracies is terrifying.

You imagine Rubiales will indeed have to quit, sometime soon. The public pressure is too overwhelming, even by Fatuous Soccer Boss Scandal standards. FIFA head Gianni Infantino is incredibly embarrassing, but there's no video of him forcibly kissing a woman. Rubiales will be sacrificed by peers who are, broadly speaking, no better than he is. He will realize that actions have consequences, if you do exactly the wrong thing, and then triple down on it. If you're in his job, you have to speed, and then slug the cop, and then show up to court with a gun, in order to really get in trouble. But here we are.

Xavi Hernandez put it exceedingly well, in his recent statement on the controversy. After voicing support for Hermoso and her teammates and condemning Rubiales, he said: "I also want to express my sadness that it has taken away from the title and the fact that we are only talking about conduct, which is insufferable." That is the secondary tragedy here, that our celebration of Hermoso and the rest of the Spanish women has been eclipsed by our defense of them, which is necessary but incomplete and inherently distracting.

Because soccer is unpredictable and fun and joyful and compelling—because it's a very good thing—it attracts the amoral, cynical, and outright awful people, who seek to capitalize on our interest in it. And they've been wildly successful. The game has been thoroughly corporatized. It is submerged in advertisement; decisions are not made so much as predetermined. Always, the folks who run the sport will do the thing that generates more money. And then they pocket some of it, often much more than they deserve. Rubiales and his ilk thrive in this environment. You think somebody of tremendous character is going to replace him? It'll inevitably be some buttoned-up hood who keeps his hands to himself, at least while the cameras are rolling.

I would like to argue that sports are so purely good that they transcend all this ugliness. They really don't. They are, at this late stage of their exploitation, more like light filtering through a dense screen. You feel the suggestion of their illuminating presence. There are moments, still, when their force is overwhelming. For example, when a superior talent like Jenni Hermoso flicks the ball to herself and volleys it into the top corner. These split seconds are undeniable. But as elation settles, they take on the painful quality of memory—what is recoverable for only a little while, because now things are different, worse than they have ever been.