As the World Cup gears up, Jonathan Last points to a column he wrote a eight years ago with a title and subtitle that says it all: The Ritual Attack of the Soccer Scolds – Every four years a cadre of self-righteous soccer fans appears to chastise and convert the non-believers.

This time he makes a point he kind of neglected to really get into in his original piece: it’s not like soccer hasn’t been given a chance in this country. To harken back to a quote from the original article:

“That’s something none of our professional leagues can attest to. . . . Most people that don’t like soccer have never played the sport, aren’t coordinated enough to play the sport, and don’t have the athleticism to play it.”

Are you kidding me? When you grow up, there are three main little league sports and soccer is one of them. It’s kind of a placeholder for football because the young bodies aren’t ready for it yet. The term soccer mom does not exist because people don’t play soccer! You can say “Oh, well they play it at kids but they forget or they are too unhealthy to play it now.” Except that most people don’t play any sports after they grow up. And the biggest sport, football, is one that far more people go their entire lives without playing. And yet football thrives while soccer doesn’t.

NPR recently argued racism as a cause, but the claim is really pretty weak. None of the major sports in the US is dominated by white people unless you count hockey, the least popular of the big four (or perhaps more accurately, the half of the big three-and-a-half). Some have argued that NASCAR ascendancy is due to the fact that it is dominated by white people, but at this point I think NASCAR is more of a cultural curiosity than a big time sport. The “American arrogance” argument is a little stronger in that Americans tend to like things that prove our superiority, but it doesn’t stop us from embracing soccer for youngsters.

None of this is to say that soccer isn’t a worthwhile sport. One of the reasons it is so popular across the world is that it is the sport that anyone can play. You just need two approximate goals and a ball. And I confess some sympathy for soccer-philes who love the fact that it’s something that kids all across the world play. That’s really kind of neat.

But that doesn’t make it entertaining to watch. And it’s not like the sports industry hasn’t tried. They’ve tried and tried. League after league. No sport besides women’s basketball has been given more and better chances. And it hasn’t taken. Efforts to turn it into something that people will watch, as indoor soccer does, often just alienates the faithful.

All of it is a matter of taste, of course. I get what Otherwill is saying at TLoOG
. I think the big draw of football for me is the strategy and counterstrategy and the main reason I’ve kind of soured on baseball and football is that there is so much less of it involved. In baseball you have lineups, substitutions, and the occasional intentional walk. Basketball has a little more, though with so many scores you don’t get games that are made and broken by a handful of plays. If there is one thing I do appreciate about soccer, it’s the low scores. That almost takes it to an extreme, though.

Soccer’s ho-hum aside, I do find the notion of World Cups extremely neat. Back when I was living in Deseret all of the former missionaries seemed to be rooting for the country they did their mission in. I’d imagine if I was working at Mindstorm now, with its excess of folks on H1-B visas, you’d get something similar. It actually brings me to something I appreciate about college football: no matter where in the country you’re from, chances are you’ve got a stake. No matter where in the world you are, you’ve got a stake.


Category: Theater

About the Author


22 Responses to Futbol & Football

  1. Peter says:

    Except that most people don’t play any sports after they grow up. And the biggest sport, football, is one that far more people go their entire lives without playing. And yet football thrives while soccer doesn’t.

    One thing that bothers me no end is the near-complete lack of participatory sports opportunities for adults. With respect to football, it’s not a near-complete lack but a complete lack, period.

  2. Maria says:

    NPR recently argued racism as a cause, but the claim is really pretty weak. None of the major sports in the US is dominated by white people unless you count hockey, the least popular of the big four (or perhaps more accurately, the half of the big three-and-a-half).

    Maybe white people just have different tastes in sports, just like we have tend to have different ideas about what creates a great society (i.e. rule of law, individual rather than collective rights, the importance of having a strong and broad middle class)? One of the things I like most about football (American style) is the chess-playing intellectual component of it. (That, and the tight pants.:))

    I don’t get that from soccer. Are we now to be bullied out of our beloved sport by the multicuti fanatics?

  3. rob says:

    You can say “Oh, well they play it at kids but they forget or they are too unhealthy to play it now.” Except that most people don’t play any sports after they grow up. And the biggest sport, football, is one that far more people go their entire lives without playing. And yet football thrives while soccer Downs’t.

    One of the reasons it is so popular across the world is that it is the sport that anyone can play.

    I think these two things are related. Most dudes think the popular pro sports are exciting because they involve lots of bursts of movement and lots of impacts. Sports that don’t, like marathon running and distance swimming, are too boring to watch. Once a year is about as often as people will watch. TV ratings for marathon season would be crap.

    The chance of serious, long term damage playing burst, impact sports is pretty much 100%. It’s a full-time job, but fun to watch. Adults can play soccer casually. To the extent that I can watch football or basketball for long enough to think anything about them, I think that it’s physically impressive. If I watch a soccer a game, I feel like a lazy sh*t for watching it instead of playing.

    Personally, I think its cool that there is a sport where physical freakishness (humorously tall tall for basketball or 300 pounds for football) isn’t a huge advantage. There no serious pro-league here, so middle and high school students who aren’t super-competitive can still get some exercise. And at least in the US, no one has delusions about becoming a famous pro soccer player.

  4. David Alexander says:

    But that doesn’t make it entertaining to watch.

    To a certain extent, baseball feels downright slow at times, and football isn’t much better. Soccer like hockey and basketball has a continuous flow of motion which is far more interesting and compelling.

    Maybe white people just have different tastes in sports

    Except that soccer is popular with white people in many other countries. 🙂

    I’d argue that the soccer’s problem is that despite hovering in the background for nearly a century, it’s currently competing in a crowded marketplace for market share and attention. The best athletes will go to other sports leaving American soccer with some of the unwanted, but somewhat usable talent which makes for somewhat less interesting play. In turn, it reeks of being either imposed by elites with Europhillic tastes or seen as a sport of Hispanic immigrants who aren’t too popular these days in our current political climate. I think soccer has some more room for popularity, but I see it as something that’s below hockey in terms of popularity, and highly regionalized with coastal locations with high immigrant populations being interested in it. MLS will probably survive, and ESPN will still cover it, but it just won’t be as popular.

    One should take into account that soccer is a primary sport in Europe, but other sports like rugby, cricket, basketball, and hockey are popular. While basketball and hockey are North American imports, rugby and cricket have not had any real impact in North America unless you’re of South Asian or Anglo-Caribbean ancestry. Plus there’s Formula 1 which basically serves as their motor sport and other regional quirks like handball in France and Spain or bandy in Sweden. And allegedly, there’s way more interest in track and field overseas than here in the States…

  5. Peter says:

    TIt’s not just that The Most Important Sport in the World has sporadic as opposed to continuous action. As befits the sport’s status as Television’s Whore, it is slowed down to an obscene level to accommodate incessant commercials (for cars, beer, mutual funds and limp d*ck drugs).

  6. Maria says:

    Except that soccer is popular with white people in many other countries.

    Okay, American white people. As well as American black people (i.e. descendants of American slaves, not Caribbean or African immigrants.)

    I blogged about it here, if anyone’s interested:

    http://mariatheproblem.wordpress.com/2010/06/18/trying-to-bully-us-out-of-our-game/

  7. trumwill says:

    Outstanding post, Maria. It has inspired a follow-up that will be posted here next week.

    Peter, I hear you about how TV slows down the game. I went to a University of Delosa game several years back. Around the third quarter there was a rainstorm. When the last quarter was resumed, the television networks moved on. It was easily the funnest quarter. But that’s a small price to pay for getting to see so many of the games on TV.

    Rob, one of the things I historically liked about baseball was that it was a sport for schlubs. I was good at it when I was fat. You get people of a lot more different body types doing the same things. Even a guy with one hand! In the Age of Steroids that’s less true. You get the period fat dudes, but for the most part they seem to either be swift or bulky-muscular.

  8. Abel says:

    Read Chuck Klosterman’s essay “George Will vs. Nick Hornby” in his book Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. He nails the problem with soccer and why it will never rise to the level of American Football, baseball, and basketball.

    Oh, and all the former missionaries are rooting passionately for their teams — over the good old USA of course. 🙂

  9. Peter says:

    One obstacle soccer faces is the simple fact that America’s sports dance card is full, so to speak. Right now there are three major professional spectator sports (NFL, MLB, NBA), two major college sports (football and basketball), and three* semi-majors (NASCAR, NHL, PGA). Seasons overlap to a considerable extent. You just aren’t going to find so many popular sports elsewhere. People have a great appetite for sports, but it’s not unlimited.

    * = one could argue that MLS is fairly close to semi-major status if not actually there

  10. trumwill says:

    For anyone trying to start a new sport, scheduling would have to be the most important thing. For instance, during football season the week is more-or-less free with the exception of some small-conference football games. So if you have a sport that can be played mostly during the week, that would be something to consider. I’m not sure if the opening exists quite as much on the weekends during baseball or basketball season since people will watch baseball and basketball on the weekends.

  11. DaveinHackensack says:

    I find World Cup soccer fairly entertaining to watch. I don’t understand some of the ticky-tack penalties (which sometimes seem more subjective than those in the NBA), but what I think is cool about it is this contrast: on the one hand, it’s usually incredibly challenging to penetrate the other team’s defense to get in scoring position, but on the other hand, goalies have this huge, nearly impossible to defend goal.

    So it’s cool watching the dribbling and deft passing it takes to get into scoring position. And, even though it’s usually low-scoring, you’re sort of on the edge of your seat when an opposing teams striker gets is threatening, because it’s so easy to score from close range.

    “One thing that bothers me no end is the near-complete lack of participatory sports opportunities for adults. With respect to football, it’s not a near-complete lack but a complete lack, period.”

    It really depends where you live, Peter. You live in the suburbs, where the emphasis is on sports for kids (one exception, I guess is bowling). In the big city, there are recreational adult leagues for basketball, hockey, volleyball, etc.

    Football is a little too involved for recreational games — it’s more like conducting a little war — but there are semi-pro leagues for interested adults that have some ability.

  12. superdestroyer says:

    The difference in the U.S. is that for football and basketball, the sport is tied to the schools. Most Americans attend a high school that has a homecoming football game and a pep rally for the basketball team but no attention is paid to the soccer team.

    America is a place that 100,000 people pack a stadium to watch a college football team but college soccer teams play in front of friends and relatives.

    Europe does not have March Madness, the Rose Bowl, or even a Frozen Four.

    The soccer snobs keep saying that you have to watch the best teams to learn to enjoy soccer but Americans learn football, basketball, and even baseball by watching the local team play in high school, college, or the minor leagues or baseball.

    If European universities had sports teams, then the sports media in Europe would be very different.

  13. Peter says:

    One thing that bothers me no end is the near-complete lack of participatory sports opportunities for adults. With respect to football, it’s not a near-complete lack but a complete lack, period.

    It really depends where you live, Peter. You live in the suburbs, where the emphasis is on sports for kids (one exception, I guess is bowling). In the big city, there are recreational adult leagues for basketball, hockey, volleyball, etc.

    It’s my impression that many of the city sports leagues are more like social clubs for singles than anything else. What with fewer single adults in the suburbs there’s less interest in leagues of that sort.

    One thing Long Island has is a very active runner’s club, in fact I competed in one of their 5K races a couple months ago,* but of course that’s not a team sport.

    Football is a little too involved for recreational games — it’s more like conducting a little war — but there are semi-pro leagues for interested adults that have some ability.

    Semi-pro football is unlike minor league baseball in that it’s a career dead end. Very, very few if any semi-pro players ever make it to the NFL.

    * = about all I saw was people’s backs, if you catch my drift

  14. Peter says:

    One more thought: from a fan’s standpoint, the fact that soccer is not a major sport is not necessarily a bad thing. I speak as someone who follows boxing, which is decades past its major-sport status. Following a cult sport gives one a sense of exclusivity, like being a member of a club that’s hard to join. You’re not a member of the herd. Another thing is that it’s fairly easy to follow soccer despite its cult status. Many games are televised and if you live in a city with an MLS team tickets are readily available and affordable (no PSL’s and multi-year waiting lists).

  15. trumwill says:

    Abel, thank you! I knew that there was a perspective that I was forgetting to get into. Even did a google because I figured it was a website. Now you remind me that it was a book. A really good book! I’ll have to see if I can dig it out and reread the soccer chapter.

    Yeah, the mission-team thing was interesting. Since most of my colleagues either did not go to college or had gone to college at the local university with an unspectacular athletics department, it was sort of the closest thing to rooting for an alma mater they had. They were very passionate about it.

  16. trumwill says:

    Peter, basketball and softball seem to be the big recreational leagues for adults. My father played softball for the church team (“The Apostles”) and there have been teams at various employers I’ve had. I think most leagues have a “draft” option where you can sign up and you will be assigned to a team that has a player shortage.

    Basketball leagues are less common, but for those that want the exercise and socialization, there are often games going on at the YMCA. In Estacado, there was a while there where all of my coworkers went to the YMCA with lunch to play full-court basketball. I went with them a couple times, but couldn’t keep up to save my life.

    It’s a mixed bag when you like a sport that nobody else does. On one hand, actually going to the events is cheaper and easier. On the other hand, one of the great things about professional and college sports is that it is a social lubricant. If you’re a fan of soccer of lacrosse or indoor football, it’s harder to find people to share your passion with except for those you meet at the games themselves.

  17. trumwill says:

    Superdestroyer,

    That’s a good point. I don’t think that’s all (or most) of it, but it is a factor. I learned about football right about the time I was attending a school that had a team. Maybe a coincidence, maybe not. But it is important to note that football in particular benefits greatly from its ties to school athletics at all levels. Particularly since it becomes more than a game but a social occasion with homecoming dances and all that.

    That’s one of the things I wonder about at colleges that don’t have football teams. What do they do? I think a couple schools (University of Denver and Alabama-Huntsville) replaced football with hockey and made hockey their Homecoming and all that. That’s one of the reasons that I think the NCAA should embrace scholarship-free indoor football. It gives you a place to do the football-like atmosphere just different enough that it’s its own thing rather than football at a lower level.

    Regarding college soccer, it’s not just that it’s irrelevant, but it’s non-existent at a lot of schools (for men). I’ll talk about it further in my post next week, but Title IX was the death knell for college men’s soccer. Even heavily financed athletic departments don’t have it. They do have women’s soccer, but it’s really hard to generate a lot of interest in women’s sports.

  18. DaveinHackensack says:

    “Americans learn football, basketball, and even baseball by watching the local team play in high school, college, or the minor leagues or baseball.”

    I don’t know how true this is. I learned football from watching the NFL on TV before I ever played in or watched a local game.

    “Semi-pro football is unlike minor league baseball in that it’s a career dead end. Very, very few if any semi-pro players ever make it to the NFL.”

    I know you’re a gym rat, Peter, but I didn’t think you were trying to break into the pros. The point is that it’s a form of organized football adults with some aptitude for the game can play.

    By the way, for those of you who missed it, the second goal Denmark scored against Cameroon today was a sweet one. Even a non-expert like me could appreciate that one.

  19. Maria says:

    I bought my DH some new Cal regalia for Daddy’s Day. Roll on you bears!

  20. Brandon Berg says:

    My guess is that soccer snobbery is less about soccer than about trashing Americans. Note the deployment of all the usual anti-American stereotypes: We’re racist, we’re provicialist, we’re too fat/unathletic, we’re hypermasculine cowboys.

    Of course, I’m talking about soccer scolds specifically, not socccer fans in general.

    I love this quote from the article: “You see, soccer can bring world peace.” Because they’ll be too busy with domestic rioting to go to war?

  21. Brandon Berg says:

    My guess is that soccer snobbery is less about soccer than about trashing Americans. Note the deployment of all the usual anti-American stereotypes: We’re racist, we’re provicialist, we’re too fat/unathletic, we’re hypermasculine cowboys.

    Of course, I’m talking about soccer scolds specifically, not socccer fans in general.

    I love this quote from the article: “You see, soccer can bring world peace.” Because they’ll be too busy with domestic rioting to go to war?

  22. Peter says:

    My guess is that soccer snobbery is less about soccer than about trashing Americans. Note the deployment of all the usual anti-American stereotypes: We’re racist, we’re provicialist, we’re too fat/unathletic, we’re hypermasculine cowboys./i>

    Makes sense. Figure it this way, there’s no logical reason why being a fan of football/baseball/basketball means that one cannot also enjoy soccer. It’s not as if people can be fans of one and only one sport.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

If you are interested in subscribing to new post notifications,
please enter your email address on this page.