'Americans will never like soccer' and other fairy talesThere are certain things you can set your watch to. For example, if you come inside after getting soaked in a rainstorm, some people will blame President Bush for causing the bad weather or at least for not handing out umbrellas to everyone. Others will swear up and down that there isn't a cloud in the sky and that the rain is an invention of the liberal media. Another thing you can bank on is the massive hyperbole that surrounds the quadrennial soccer World Cup.
This is when normally understated soccer-lovers come out of closet and profess the love for their sport unabashedly. Since it only happens one month out of every four years, there's always quite a bit of hype.
This of course brings the soccer-bashers out of the closet too. I ought to start by defining the term. A soccer-basher is not someone who is uninterested in soccer. My mom is someone who is uninterested in soccer. A soccer-basher is someone who goes out of his (or her) way to badmouth the sport. I was in a bar on Sunday watching the World Cup final. I went into the bathroom and some guy came in as well. He noticed by soccer hat. That provoked him to launch into a one minute discourse on why he disliked soccer and why it was boring. Where did he get the audacity going out of his way to badmouth the sport to some stranger he knew was a fan?
Soccer-bashers talk about how boring soccer is, how it's a sport for pansies and commies (or, in the modern lingo, a sport for terrorists and the French). They insist it's a sport filled with lazy cheating divers (more true than it should be) and people not tough enough to play manly sports. Strangely enough, they don't say this to Roy Keane's face. The soccer-bashers insist that if if you really love the sport, you should move to Che-loving Latin America or socialist Europe. How right-wing politics gets in here is beyond me.
And as in anything of this sort, the more popular soccer becomes, the more shrill the soccer-bashers get. This is to be expected. No one bashes professional lacrosse because few follow it. Popularity of smaller sports provokes a backlash amongst those who follow the establishment sports. The harder the rain falls, the sunnier they insist it is.
Why do so many people go out of their way to bash soccer like the guy in the bar? I can't stand the NBA (Non-Basketball Association). It baffles me how anyone can sit in front of a TV and watch golf or NASCAR for hours on end. But I don't bash those sports. I don't go the bar and shout about how much auto racing sucks. I don't whine about the NBA Finals being shoved down the throats of anyone who watched more than 3 seconds a day of ESPN. I just ignore those sports. I don't need to tear down other sports to prop up my own. If they come on the TV, I don't fire off any angry newspaper column or blog entry. I just change the channel.
But it is amusing is when soccer-bashers in their hysteria express statements that flout common sense. I'm not talking about subjective comments like 'Soccer is boring' or 'There aren't enough goals.'
I'm talking more about comments like 'Soccer will never be big in America.' The more popular the game as a spectator sport becomes, and it's come light years since the early 90s, the louder these comments become.
They tell you that soccer will never be big in America. But they can't explain why the highest World Cup rights fee in history from a single country was just paid by US broadcasters. They can't explain why and cities and across the country have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build soccer-specific stadiums. Are Disney, Univision and big developers capitalistic entrepreneurs or charities who magnanimously want to prop up soccer in this country with their largesse? Or maybe they know something the 'Americans will never like soccer' crowd refuses to accept.
They will tell you that no one watches soccer. But they can't come up with a good reason why almost as many people watched the World Cup final on Sunday as the average World Series game last year.
To be honest, these comments are more amusing than anything else. I don't like sports based on how popular they are. I liked soccer when it was obscure. I still like it now that it's popularity continues to rise. I will continue to like soccer if its popularity in this country plummets.
The point of this entry is not to convince soccer-bashers to 'get with the program.' It's not to say that if they only knew the rules and understood the nuances, they'd love it. They shouldn't like it because it's becoming popular anymore than I should've stopped liking it back when it wasn't.
My comment is simply for the soccer-bashers to grow up. If you don't like soccer, just ignore it for crying out loud. We soccer fans don't rain on your parade when you 'shove down our throats' the YEARLY saturation coverage of the Super Bowl or MLB postseason or NBA playoffs. Can't you give us one month every four years with a little grace?
A corollary to that is that soccer fans need to grow up too. There are various reasons most Americans aren't into soccer as a spectator sport. But some of the 'reasons' offered by soccer fans are obnoxious and condescending. It has nothing to do with the fact that Americans don't win every World Cup; if dominance were the only factor, then track and field would be our national sport. It has nothing to do with low scoring; Americans venerate the pitchers' duel and gridiron defenses. There are other bogus reasons offered too but they really boil down to a superior, nose-in-the-air attitude, which is surprising. Most of the rest of the world thinks that Americans aren't good enough at soccer to be snobbish about it. But our fans are.
There is one simple reason why baseball and gridiron football are more popular than soccer in the US: they were here first. Or at least they gained a cultural foothold first. This is also why baseball and gridiron football remain nationally more popular than basketball and hockey. Passion and tradition are related. Big-time soccer doesn't have the tradition yet. It takes time. Soccer may never be as popular as baseball. So what?
Admittedly, a lot of the snobbery results from the bunker mentality. American soccer fans have to defend themselves against American soccer haters and foreigners who insist Americans are crap at the sport and should just give it up. You'd be shocked at how much the soccer boards light up every time Jim Rome opens his big yap bashing soccer. Fans need to grow up and give him and other soccer-bashers exactly the amount of attention they deserve: none.
(And they can delight in the fact that Rome's show was pre-empted for most of the last month by... none other than the World Cup)
Maybe when US soccer fans losing the condescension, there might be a little less knee-jerk resistance to the sport.
Another thing you can set your watch to is that after every World Cup, people who wouldn't watch soccer anyways will offer fantastic ways to improve the sport. Make the goals ten yards wider. Make goals from distance worth two points. Reduce the number of players on the field. Make a 4' height limit for goalkeepers.
None of these things should happen. Soccer should not be completely changed to pander to the fans of a single country, especially one with such a short attention span anyway. They tried it before in this country with a weird version of soccer called the NASL. It boomed but only for a few years and really only in one place (metro New York). Then it collapsed because it was unsustainable. The current Major League Soccer is a much more orthodox version of soccer and its success is more modest but also more uniform and sustainable.
Americans love fads. That's why poker and reality shows are on television so much here. In recent years millions of Americans have come to love soccer as it is now. There's no reason to mutate it into something unrecognizable for the purpose of a 4 or 5 year boom. And Americans also love quick fixes. For the soccer to really take root as a spectator sport, it needs to grow organically and that means slowly. And it's doing so now. Soccer fans just need to accept that. And soccer bashers just need to deal with that.