Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
In Tangerine, sports say a lot about the person who plays them. So, like, if you're really into miniature golf, maybe you see yourself as the gnome who lives inside of that little castle at the last hole. Put on that red pointy hat and party! Or if you're a diehard T-ball player—at age 16—that would also tell us a little something about you, as well.
Anyway, Paul sees soccer as a team sport, where everyone has to work equally hard, and has to work together with the other teammates, in order to win. (Unlike in mini golf, where it's just you and your short pink golf club living the dream together.) All of Paul's friends are soccer players, too, including Luis.
Football, on the other hand, symbolizes for Paul everything that's wrong with sports. Being able to win fame and power without having to work at all, let alone work together, seems to him like a fake and unfair way to succeed. Here's how Paul sees it:
I've played football. […] You just stand around most of the time waiting for somebody to tell you what to do. And in the end, some guy like Erik who hasn't even worked up a sweat can come in and grab all the glory. It doesn't work that way in soccer. (1.5.12)
Even good-guy Antoine Thomas feels he has to lie about where he comes from, in order to be able to get on the "right" team, so that he has a chance to use his football skills to help him get into college. "Everyone knows how it is. If you want that big-time football dream, […] you get out of Tangerine. No big time scouts ever come here. Ever" (3.11.12)
Football players in this book use football as a means to an end—a way to get into college—rather than playing for the love of the sport, like Paul and his friends do with soccer. And Paul just doesn't think that's right.
Now we're not saying we agree with that. We've seen Friday Night Lights. But Paul does, and, right now, Paul's vision is the one that counts.