American soccer must remain apoliticalI wrote yesterday about the anti-Semitic thug campaign that succeeded in shutting down the talk show World Soccer Daily, which was practically the only place you could get sports information with less than 95 pct. Brett Favre content. That alone should make it worth saving, whether you like soccer or not.
There are three reasons this bothered me. Two should be obvious, one probably less so.
The first obvious reason is that I and many other hardcore American soccer fans lost the best talk show in the country dedicated to our sport and the competitions we care about.
The second obvious reason is that I have no problem with people disliking the show and choosing to not listen to it themselves. What I resent is them imposing their choice and tastes on me.
That brings me to the less obvious reason this not only bothers me. I am frightened of what this might represent and its potential to destroy soccer in America.
The US has gone through several periods of McCarthyistic behavior in its political history, most recently following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Americans post-9/11 have had behaved remarkably similarly to Liverpool fans post-HIllsborough.
These periods of McCarthyism represent a complete break with the values Americans claim to cherish. Truth can only be found when differing points of view and different interpretations of events are allowed to be freely presented, to be heard and, yes, to clash.
Speech should be fought with (non-death threatening) speech or with ignoring silence, not with ignorant silencing.
Freedom of speech is the antithesis of the "freedom" to silence. What's interesting is that Cohen regularly gave air time to callers to his show who attacked his position on Hillsborough. He wasn't a coward who tried to silence people who disagreed with his way of seeing things. He didn't threaten anyone's life or livelihood.
LFC fans claim that Cohen's statements repeated alleged lies that have been around for 20 years. Yet silencing Cohen does nothing to get their own point of view out there. Instead, it makes them look like bullies and cowards with no life who use intimidation, vile bigoted slurs and contemptible death threats to shut up people who don't parrot their party line. Their tactics call into question their integrity. Why would you trust anything that comes out of the mouths of dirtbags like this?
I and most American soccer fans didn't care one way or the other about LFC until a few days ago. In fact, I often rooted for Liverpool in games against teams I didn't like, such as Manchester United and Milan. Not anymore. Liverpool is now the most hated club in America. This is all they've achieved.
What's fascinated me in learning about soccer as it's followed around the world is how different the supporters' mentality is from fans of the traditional American sports. This has both good and bad elements.
Being a sports fan has an inherently tribal element to it. Preference is usually based on something or arbitrary.
Why else would a bunch of Liverpudlians gather together to cheer on players from Spain, Holland, Argentina, Israel and maybe a few from England who have nothing in common except a red jersey with a bird logo rather than another group of cosmopolitan players with nothing in common except a blue jersey with a logo of medieval tower on it?
In American sports, the reasons people like particular teams are usually more benign. The biggest one is geography. Most areas in the US have only one big league team per sport. People in New England tend to like the Boston Red Sox. People in Chicago tend to like the Chicago Bears.
Sometimes, people like teams because their father did or because they know someone on a particular team or things like that.
These things are not quite as internalized. In a culture where people move all the time, geography is not necessarily innate. Kids often vary from their parents' preferences as a mark of individuality (my brother and I like the Red Sox, my dad the Los Angeles Dodgers).
In soccer, it's often more personal. In other cultures, people tend to move less so geography is more a part of their being. Further, some soccer teams are based on qualities that are far from benign. There are soccer teams with fascist roots (Real Madrid, Lazio, Colo Colo) and those with anti-fascist roots (Roma, Universidad de Chile). There are teams associated with working class resentment (Boca Juniors) and those associated with the upper class snobbery (River Plate). Teams associated with religious sectarianism (Glasgow Rangers and Celtic). Teams associated with ethnic nationalism (Barcelona, Athletic Bilbao).
We don't really have that in North American (US-Canada) sports. There are a few exceptions. Maybe the Montreal Canadiens. Maybe the Chicago Cubs and White Sox. But even in regions with more than one team, it's not nearly bitter.
Here in upstate New York, there are large numbers of baseball fans who like the New York Mets, people who like the Boston Red Sox and sort-of-people who like their big rivals the New York Yankees. It's not like there's a Catholic team and a Protestant team and I'm glad for that.
While they're not nearly as passionate as in other parts of the world, sporting affiliations in the US and Canada are remarkably and thankfully apolitical. I want the positive aspects of world soccer fandom's passion to come to the US. The flag waving. The scarf wearing. The singing. The full stadiums. But I am a strong believer in the absolute separation of sport and politics.
And that's what's frightening about the McCarthyist campaign of brute intimidation unleashed by the anti-Cohen Liverpool thugs: it's really not about WSD or Steven Cohen.
In addition to representing the remnants of a brutish soccer culture England has mostly purged, it's about exporting the worst excesses and most base behavior of foreign soccer cultures to America. We don't want that garbage. Give us your songs. Keep your slurs.
Hillsborough was not about hooliganism. But many who purport to defend the memory of its victims employ tactics that veer dangerously close to it.
The lot that berates the world on respect for the dead sings a song mocking the Munich air disaster that killed much of Manchester United's team in 1958.