After his stunning performance at the FIFA World Cup, American goalkeeper Tim Howard’s fans have dubbed him US Secretary of Defense on Wikipedia. A groundswell of support for Howard followed his record-breaking 16 saves in the match between the US and Belgium on Tuesday. This represents the most saves by a goalkeeper since FIFA began keeping a written record of that statistic.
Howard had an awe-inspiring night on Tuesday when the US played Belgium in the Round of 16. He racked up his 16 stops against a Belgian onslaught of offensive firepower, and kept them scoreless after 90 minutes. Unfortunately for the Americans, the boys from Brussels were able to tally two goals in the first half of extra time. Nineteen-year-old American winger Julian Green was able to cut the Belgian lead in half by scoring in the second half of extra time, but the US was unable to muster up enough momentum to turn the tides. The loss eliminated them from the FIFA World Cup.
In an outlandish show of support, one anonymous prankster recently changed Wikipedia’s listing of the US Secretary of Defense from Chuck Hagel to Tim Howard. The real Defense Secretary called Howard shortly after the altered Wikipedia page began making the rounds online. Hagel took the joke in stride by congratulating the soccer star on his World Cup success and even stated that with time, Howard might be able to take Hagel’s job in the real world as well as the digital one. He also invited Howard and the rest of the US Men’s National Team to the Pentagon.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest also got in on the action surrounding Howard’s fictitious job change. When asked about it by the press, Earnest replied by using the exact response given when queried about serious US appointments. He then proceeded to revel in the “brilliant idea” on Wikipedia, and complimented Howard on his ability to stymie attackers using athleticism and bravery.
The Wikipedia entry was quickly changed, but the prank’s notoriety soon prompted a response from Jimmy Wales, the online encyclopedia’s founder. After posting a statement on Twitter condemning the vandalizing of Wikipedia pages for comedic purposes, Wales hailed the joke as an “exquisite” piece of work.
In addition to the Wikipedia change by fans dubbing Howard the US Secretary of Defense, his outstanding performance at the FIFA World Cup also sparked several other sources of cyber comedy. Memes featuring images of Howard diving to make a save have proliferated in the fertile grounds of the blogosphere. Several of them were trending under the Twitter hashtag #thingstimhowardcouldsave.
One of the most dramatic results to stem from Howard’s athletic heroism has been an online petition to scrap the name of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and rechristen it after the US netminder. As of Thursday morning, the petition had 14,259 signatures. If it reaches 100,000 by the end of July, the Obama administration will offer an official response, as per the “We the People” initiative that was launched by the White House in 2011.
In order to even make it into the Round of 16, the US had to play its way through the daunting “Group of Death.” This involved matches against two European soccer powerhouses and a team that pundits widely believe to be the best in Africa. Thankfully, a win against Ghana and a tie with Portugal were enough to offset the loss to Germany and ensure that the US made it into the next round.
Setting aside petitions and digital pranks by fans dubbing Tim Howard the US Secretary of Defense on Wikipedia, one fact remains unassailable. The goalkeeper’s work was monumentally important to the success of the US team at the FIFA World Cup, and his performance has cemented a place for him in the annals of American soccer.
Commentary by Yitzchak Besser