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  Paul's Column Archive

January 15, 2007

This Conservative Welcomes the Rise of U.S. Soccer


When the news first came out about British soccer star David Beckham’s decision to finish his “football” career in the United States, many colleagues shared with me their assumptions about how unhappy I, the token conservative, must be with the news. After all, soccer is a blue sport played only by liberals, Europeans, and generally anyone else who lacks the guts to endure the challenging athleticism required by American football, right?


Now granted Beckham will attract enormous attention to himself, his lifestyle and his wife, former Spice Girl Victoria “Posh Spice” Beckham, as if this country needed more celebrity gossip. The couple’s arrival will doubtless add an unfortunate mega-story that tabloids and blogs will be obsessed with for years, and this is not to mention that Beckham’s new best friend happens to be the emotionally questionable Tom Cruise, Scientology’s poster child. Certainly this further degeneration of American media, and added focus on Los Angeles, home of some of America’s most insane celebrities, can only on its face be bad news for a conservative – nay an American – such as myself.


All of that said, however, I wholeheartedly welcome Beckham to this side of the Atlantic. The fact of the matter is, soccer is a fantastic sport that is underappreciated at least in large part, and probably subconsciously, because it is the one significant sport and activity that we cannot compete in seriously, if not dominate completely.


And no, soccer is not popular in the world because it is all most poor people can afford to play – it’s not that much harder to pass around the pigskin or shoot a basketball. And as simple as it is to believe it, Europeans don’t resort to soccer because they’re too feminine to adopt hockey or American football. (But yes, the Oscar-deserving crying and whining upon being barely touched by another player is most probably reflective of them and their culture of complaint and dependency).


America’s inadequacy in soccer is something very difficult for many of its people to accept. After all, we are not used to having an inferiority complex. The way Americans feel about soccer is the way the rest of the world feels about everything else – except that they still want everything else. The only challenge therefore is to convince Americans of the merits of soccer, because once that hurdle’s jumped, getting to the top is a piece of cake.


Why would I say something like that? Well, whether it is apparent or not, America is very well prepared to launch soccer to the top. We have a massive and highly effective structure on which we run and develop every sport, from high school, to college, on to minor leagues and all the way to major leagues. Once we decide to give soccer the same institutional attention we give to football or basketball, that is, once we redirect some of our scouts, coaches and columnists to the world of soccer, the existing athletes will shine and the fans will follow.


Such a soccer phenomenon would be self-sustaining. If enough kids in this sports-obsessed nation of 300 million start kicking around their soccer balls in the backyard, it wouldn’t be long before we give England, Germany and even Brazil a serious run for their money. In turn, when Americans start paying closer attention to the World Cup, their celebrations would inevitably humble French claims as the best party animals in the world. And of course, God help those “scary” European hooligans when soccer starts attracting Philly fans!


Beckham wants to make a “difference with the kids.” His success would be much appreciated. I’m willing to put up with nonstop coverage of TomKat and Davictoria outings if he brings more respect to American soccer, from both within and beyond the United States. As he concedes, it will be a challenge. But where Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer and Lothar Matthäus failed, Beckham just might succeed – even if it has to begin with the Britney Spears constituency.


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