Wednesday 1 April ~

Last week, the Wall Street Journal ran an apparently vitriolic opinion piece called “Soccer is Ruining America”. The author, a right-wing professor of religion and philosophy, said he wrote it tongue-in-cheek, in an attempt to “spoof the genre of angry white male polemics” and “satirize the idea that sports really matter”. But his joke was lost on most readers. No sport divides America so fiercely. The level of soccer-bashing may have fallen from its heyday, when the Cosmos filled stadiums to the bewilderment of the uninitiated, but cyberspace seems to have given the movement a fresh pair of lungs. There is also, still, a bewildering level of antipathy in high places.

When David Beckham signed for Los Angeles, ESPN polled its viewers not as to whether his arrival was a good thing, but whether they cared about it at all. It’s hard to imagine the same question being asked of an event in any other sport. With a few exceptions, the mainstream American media continues to regard the association game as a foreign entity. Fourteen years on, Major League Soccer’s footprint remains tiny (especially in cities where it isn’t played) and even the big international competitions are uniformly under-reported. Dispassionate observers – such as there are – argue that on America’s crowded sporting calendar a relatively late arrival like soccer can’t help but struggle for attention.

Yet at the same time, soccer-related tragedies – rioting, a bribery scandal, part of a stadium giving way – seem to arouse the sports desk’s interest in a way that even high-profile matches do not. This more subtle discrediting of the game may have largely replaced the approach of earlier generations, where journalists often passed judgment on soccer instead of reporting on it. Yet it reflects the same attitude. It seems not to matter that MLS is expanding, or that a fair number of Americans play in the big leagues overseas; far easier to ridicule David Beckham or prattle about some instinctive need for sport to be played with the hands.

What is gained from such cynicism, particularly in a country that largely disdains it, is difficult to fathom. The rank ignorance of previous generations has largely faded – there can’t be that many Americans who haven’t stumbled across a match or two – and the audience for the game has never been greater. More of the country tuned in to the last World Cup final than saw the deciding game of the World Series a few months later (a fact much of the media chose to ignore).

If, as the rednecks contend, soccer is all part of some international conspiracy to drive the world toward socialism, it has been lost on the likes of the Champions League; if it is only played by the effete, there would be no place for the likes of Brian McBride. Perhaps all that is needed is to let the adversaries scream themselves hoarse – and to allow a few more generations to pass. David Wangerin

Comments (5)
Comment by Reed of the Valley People 2009-04-01 17:58:13

I think part of the reason is a huge portion of US soccer fans are are young, non-white and, very often, female. These people, especially hispanics, don't seem to "count" as Americans in the eyes of so many U.S. sportswriters, especially the columnists and sports radio personalities who usually produce this sort of crap. They are almost all older white men. And there don't seem to be too many new voices coming into the field these days. There are some, to be sure, but with the way the newspaper business is going, I can't imagine sportswriting is a very attractive career option for young people any more.

Comment by fer 2009-04-01 22:08:16

I agree with the previous comment. I think there is a generational divide here. Younger Americans are much more welcome of soccer/football. Many of them have actually played it, even if they've moved on to other sports and they put it in the same thoughtspace as baseball, basketball and American football.

I think as younger generations replace the older commentators on the media side, you'll see the coverage begin to change as well.

Having said that, I still see the sport sharing time with all of the other major sports in the US and I don't see it overtaking american football or basketball anytime soon. (Baseball, another sport which is becoming predominantly Hispanic, is another story however ...)

Comment by radmonkey 2009-04-02 00:03:30

I'm still surprised this is bigger deal on WSC than on bigsoccer. There the reaction was to shrug and lament the poor fool. Because his species is almost extinct. Satirical or not.

Comment by harper 2009-04-06 19:56:37

"I think part of the reason is a huge portion of US soccer fans are are young, non-white and, very often, female."

This is absolutely HILARIOUS!! You don't know much about the US "soccer" public at all, do you? (I'm a New Yorker, btw).

The OVERWHELMING public for the sport in the US is WHITE, affluent, suburban. The OVERWHELMING number of fans following the sport are affluent WHITE girls and young women from the burbs. The notion that non-white girls in the US follow the sport in large numbers is truly, truly hilarious. You don't know anything about the class dynamics of football/soccer in this country at all.

Comment by erpskaderp 2009-04-21 04:38:20

as an educated, american-born football fan (i'll pass saying soccer since this is a uk board), most of this article is sadly correct. but there are many theories in football circles here as to why football is, in a sense, hated in the u.s. one could be our country's long-standing arrogance towards the rest of the world since WWI. and this image of always being and striving to be the best. and we're not the best at football, in fact the playing field is so even some americans just refuse to accept it (again, MAYBE). the sports we love the most are the sports that we are typically one of the best at internationally, like basketball/baseball/hockey. and american football is just our rugby. it's our aussie rules football. it's just our thing. so deal with it (because i love american football just as much as football).

another thought is the nature of the 4 sports previously mentioned are very violent and productive, when it comes to scoring. it's the hits in football and the fights in hockey. the power of home-run hitters in baseball and the 100-point games in basketball. THIS IS NOT TO SAY FOOTBALL IS NOT VIOLENT. with all the injuries i've had playing for 20 years, i can attest that football is not for the weak. but that is countered with what amounts to a smear campaign where footballers are referred to as wimps. with all of this saturated in our minds while growing up, some just can't appreciate a 0-0 game and all the beauty in it (but we love a good 1-0 baseball game, which will be hailed as a "Pitchers' Duel" and analyzed extensively. go figure.)

and until recently, without a professional league to look towards, kids stopped playing football by their teens for the "Big 4," chasing their dreams of becoming a pro athlete. so until the MLS formed and gained the good footing it has now, there just wasn't that extra incentive, the dream, to keep playing and caring about football. but in time this will pass as the mls expands to the markets where the kids are playing and will continue to grow the sport. there is a lot of excitement in this country about the possibility of getting the 2022 world cup, so who knows where we'll be as a footballing country in 13 years. if you look back to the start of mls, we've come a long ways since then, and that was only 14 years ago.

but the tide is slowing changing. tv rights for the premier league and champions league are rising quick, and so are viewers. there's a new generation of americans that want to be more like europeans in our views and travels and become closer with our neighbors in the world. look at the success and instant love affair in Seattle with the new MLS team. huge crowds (well, 28,000, which in the US might as well be a full house at old trafford). front page, above-the-fold news in the papers. the nightly TV news talk about them all the time, even when the show is not in the sports segment. and the two closest major cities, Portland, Ore., and Vancouver in Canada, are getting teams which start at 2011, and they already have the demand to sell out their stadiums (both in the low 20,000's). so the tide is changing.

don't give up on us yet. soccer may not be king in america but it is here to stay and can only grow larger.

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