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June 21, 2006

Soccer: An American Weakness
 

As an American, a patriot and a conservative, I happen to be consistently proud of what the United States has to offer. Whether a mighty military, a heroic history or a superb people, America does indeed boast the best in these and other measures of greatness.
 
Part of what makes the United States particularly wonderful is the quality of its competition - the rest of the world. Comparing America to even the world's other great nations would place her in an overwhelmingly positive light. Looking at Russia's economy, Italy's military, Sweden's tax rates, China's human rights record and Canada's health care makes the United States look like the Garden of Eden. Interacting with Americans makes the French look like Catholic school nuns - only without the religiosity or good intentions.

Though America normally falls on the right side of international disagreements - such as Kyoto, Iraq, world wars, etc - even I have to call it on its mistakes and weaknesses. While usually my complaint is related to something like our country's failure to rely on the metric system, a timelier subject would be the weakness of soccer on the American sports scene.


As the joys and pains of the Germany 2006 World Cup take their toll on hundreds of millions of fans around the globe, the overwhelming majority  of Americans continue to drown in apathy, or even worse, countless are glued to their televisions as drugged athletes take turns swinging at balls with wooden sticks. The latter of which is fine, by the way, it's just that it is taking away their opportunity to watch the biggest and most important event in any sport.
 
But why is soccer so unpopular in a land that is in love with sports? Why do so many conservatives call it a "blue" (read: liberal) sport? And how, so strangely, did a sport played almost wholly with feet lose the title "football" to a game that involves only the occasional kick?
 
One explanation could be that many Americans view soccer as too feminine or European, hence the "blue" label. It has minimal physical contact compared to other team sports, and tackles oftentimes have to be, at most, moderately vicious to warrant a yellow card or even a suspension. Yet for some reason, and unlike 30-year-old beer drinking European males, 30-year-old beer drinking American males on the whole only get excited by big athletes colliding on the football field or on ice.
 
The lack of aggressive contact, however, cannot on its own explain Americans' lack of passion for soccer. The underlying sentiment of American superiority plays a major part in shaping views of the game.  After all, why should we put effort into a game just because everyone else idolizes it?
 
Though few admit it, this feeling ties into the fact that we are just not that good at soccer. Our national team is already off to a bad start in the current World Cup, and has never made it past the quarterfinals in the tournament's history. There does seem to be a correlation between the popularity of major sports in the United States and how good we are at them. We are the best at football and baseball, pretty good at basketball (not necessarily the best, as we had thought before the 2002 World Championship and the Athens 2004 Olympics), decent at hockey, and not that great at soccer. Americans just don't want to fall in love with a sport where their team is the inferior one.
 
Not even hosting the 1994 World Cup, winning the 1999 women's World Cup, which we also hosted, making a somewhat impressive appearance in the 2002 World Cup, nor reaching a (widely discredited) ranking of fifth in the world (according to the international body FIFA) have significantly altered Americans' stubborn views toward soccer.
 
The fact of the matter is, soccer is and will continue to be the most popular sport in the world. What else do Germany, Brazil, England, the Ivory Coast and almost every other nation in the world share so strongly that is as strongly rebuffed by the United States? Because this phenomenon will never go away, America cannot ignore the inevitability that at some point, it will have to respond to the world's mocking and put some more effort into the game watched by everyone else on the planet.
 
So, sign your child up for a soccer league, turn on your television, and wave that American flag as the World Cup delights you and the rest of the world. Who knows? At some point, we might even make the semis.

 

2006 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.

 

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