Daryl posted up Part I of a series on why Americans Hate Soccer over at RLN, which deals with a recent article by Dave Eggers in The Observer. Dave’s article is clearly tongue in cheek as he blames American’s hatred of soccer on communism:
at about age 10, something happens to the children of the United States. Soccer is dropped, quickly and unceremoniously, by approximately 88 per cent of all young people. They move onto baseball, football, basketball, hockey, field hockey, and, sadly, golf. Shortly thereafter, they stop playing these sports, too, and begin watching these sports on television, including, sadly, golf.
The abandonment of soccer is attributable, in part, to the fact that people of influence in America long believed that soccer was the chosen sport of communists. When I was 13 – this was 1983, long before glasnost, let alone the fall of the wall – I had a gym teacher, who for now we’ll call Moron McCheeby, who made a very compelling link between soccer and the architects of the Iron Curtain. I remember once asking him why there were no days of soccer in his gym units. His face darkened. He took me aside. He explained with quivering, barely mastered rage, that he preferred decent, honest American sports where you used your hands. Sports where one’s hands were not used, he said, were commie sports played by Russians, Poles, Germans and other commies. To use one’s hands in sports was American, to use one’s feet was the purview of the followers of Marx and Lenin.
Dave actually gets a few interesting points in between the snark:
Our continued indifference to the sport worshipped around the world can be easily explained in two parts. First, as a nation of loony but determined inventors, we prefer things we thought of ourselves. The most popular sports in America are those we conceived and developed on our own: [American] football, baseball, basketball. If we can claim at least part of the credit for something, as with tennis or the radio, we are willing to be passively interested. But we did not invent soccer, and so we are suspicious of it.
The second and greatest, by far, obstacle to the popularity of the World Cup, and of professional soccer in general, is the element of diving. Americans may generally be arrogant, but there is one stance I stand behind, and that is the intense loathing of penalty-fakers. There are few examples of American sports where diving is part of the game, much less accepted as such. Things are too complicated and dangerous in American football to do much faking. Baseball? It’s not possible, really – you can’t fake getting hit by a baseball, and it’s impossible to fake catching one. The only one of the big three sports that has a dive factor is basketball, where players can and do occasionally exaggerate a foul against them, but get this: the biggest diver in the NBA is not an American at all. He’s Argentinian! (Manu Ginobili, a phony to end all phonies, but otherwise a very good player.)
Americans can be an arrogant bunch, but I’m not so sure we look down on soccer because we didn’t invent it. How do you explain the popularity in America of tennis and, sadly, golf? Diving is a major problem as Dave notes, but I can’t recall ever talking with someone about soccer and having them say ‘I hate that sport because they always dive’
Daryl isn’t buying it either, but has his own thoughts on the subject:
Since the majority of kids abandon soccer when they reach adulthood, the sport gets stereotyped as kids play, not suitable for adults. The fact that the USA womens team was better than the mens for a long time makes this problem even worse. And so the mainstream media, the one that worships the hard-hitting world of NFL and the freakish giants of NBA, refuse to take soccer seriously.
Wow – I have to admit it never occurred to me that the reason we dislike soccer is because the girls were better than the boys. Americans have disregarded soccer forever. The success of the women’s team was a huge boon for the sport in the US and while you may not make fans out of sexist guys with a superb women’s team, there are ways of getting their attention too.
But seriously – I just don’t believe that American’s supposed dislike of soccer is due to any of this.
First, can we stop saying Americans hate soccer? If we really hated it, we wouldn’t let our kids play it. Millions play soccer every week as Dave so humorously notes:
On Saturdays, every flat green space in the continental US is covered with tiny people in shiny uniforms, chasing the ball up and down the field, to the delight and consternation of their parents, most of whom have no idea what is happening. The primary force behind all of this is the American Youth Soccer Organisation, which was formed in the Seventies to popularise soccer among the youth of America, and did this with startling efficiency. Within a few years, soccer was the sport of choice for parents everywhere, particularly those who harboured suspicions that their children had no athletic ability whatsoever.
The beauty of soccer for very young people is that, to create a simulacrum of the game, it requires very little skill. No other sport can bear such incompetence. With soccer, 22 kids can be running around, most of them aimlessly, or picking weeds by the sidelines, or crying for no apparent reason, and yet the game can have the general appearance of an actual soccer match. If there are three or four co-ordinated kids among the 22 flailing bodies, there will actually be dribbling, a few legal throw-ins, and a couple times when the ball stretches the back of the net. It will be soccer, more or less.
Everytime a journalist writes yet another article on why Americans ‘hate soccer’ it just reinforces it. How many times have you talked about soccer with a fellow American and have them tell you they ‘hate’ it. I’d venture to say the response is more often a lack of understand or a general disregard of the game.
Americans don’t like soccer because they don’t KNOW it. All they see is a bunch of guys running around for 90 minutes in matches with VERY low scores. They figure low scoring means low excitement. I believe that much of the American disdain of soccer is simply due to preconceived notions of a game they have rarely, if ever, seen.
But that is changing in a huge way. Americans couldn’t ‘like’ soccer because they didn’t know it. They didn’t know it because they never saw it played by adults. So maybe Daryl’s stereotype argument (the one about kids vs adults, NOT men vs women!) has merit. Most American’s with children have watched youth soccer and most American’s without kids have played it at one time or another. But few have actually watched an adult soccer match. Now thanks to satellite and cable TV, soccer matches are all over TV. From GolTV to Fox Soccer Channel, you can usually find an exciting match to watch.
Americans disregard soccer because they don’t KNOW soccer. The 1994 and 1996 World Cups changed that for some and now the growing prevalence of soccer on TV will continue to expose more and more people to the beautiful game. I’m not saying everyone will like it, but there is a change afoot.
During the recent NCAA championship, I was at a bar having a beer and catching the early rounds. Imagine my surprise when I saw not one, but two people in the bar wearing Premiership jerseys. How do you explain overflow crowds for exhibition matches in markets dominated by other sports?
Soccer will not suddenly one day be in the Top Three here in the US. However, if you look closely, soccer is making a sneak attack on the US. It is seeping further and further into our id (which is TV of course) and from there likely will continue to gain converts and fans. While the recent friendly with Jamaica wasn’t encouraging (sans our stars still in Europe), I hope our team can survive their brutal group and make a run. Just like in 1994 and 1996, Americans will rally around a national team making a run for the top, even if they don’t make it. Just look at hockey. Best. Game. Ever. in 1980 and now there are professional hockey teams South of the Mason-Dixon line making runs for the Stanley Cup.
I think it’s high time we stop talking about why Americans hate soccer and start writing about how more and more Americans are getting to know and love soccer. We might just convince some more of them.