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Thoughts on Soccer Haters

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2008-03-06 05:27:21     
Article by John Holland

When I lived in South Africa, my girlfriend at the time took me to see a cricket match. I got dressed in a nice white shirt and tie, bought a hat at the grounds, and for the rest of the day sat in a shaded box trying to figure out what was going on. The game looked vaguely like baseball, except that there were only two bases, nobody wore mitts, it took nine hours to complete, and the score was expressed in some odd looking fraction that I did not fully grasp. I can't say that I enjoyed myself, but it was a cultural experience and I did appreciate it on that level. When my girlfriend asked me if I was a cricket convert, I told her, "I didn't grow up with cricket, I don't really get it, and I'm not a fan, but I can understand why people like it."

I don't hate cricket, I don't make fun of people who play it or like it, and generally speaking I have no problem with it. I don't watch it or follow it, but I don't actively dislike it either. One of the most puzzling phenomena for me is watching people actively bash soccer. Now, I love a lot of sports. Come March Madness I take up permanent residence on my couch, I love college football, the NBA Finals, and I even follow the odd tennis tournament. The conclusion that I have come to is that here is no objectively superior sport. People disinclined to like football will pull out the old quip that it combines the worst of American society: violence punctuated by committee meetings. People who don't like baseball will note the long moments where nothing happens, the incessant spitting and crotch adjusting, and the overall lack of action. And, hoops-haters will note that you can dismiss all but the last 3 minutes of the game. So, given all of this, when people feel compelled to bas soccer, as though other sports are somehow naturally and objectively better or without flaw, I feel compelled to dismiss them out of hand.

For a lot of reasons, dismissal is the correct approach. After all, when Jim Rome goes off on rants, the soccer fan should just refuse to take the bait. After all Rome is a silly little man devoid of intelligent perspective. Still, I wonder why people hate soccer in America. After all, most people watch some sports, and don't' watch others, but aside from the odd redneck joke about NASCAR, people don't really go out of their way to bash sports that they don't like.

In the end, I have basically decided that soccer haters are mostly motivated by a combination of xenophobia and racism. Note how frequently their remarks drip with references to Europeans, Mexicans or foreigners. For people frightened by the new nature of the world, who fear foreign influence, who worry about a sport without a long history in America becoming an entrenched part of every American childhood, or who see it as entirely too Mexican, soccer provides an easy metaphor for everything that they fear. I have no statistical evidence of this, but I would bet my dollars against your dimes that most soccer fans are on average 1) more educated, 2) more likely to have friends of several ethnic groups, 3) more likely to view globalization as a good thing, and 4) more likely to have traveled more extensively.

There is a very parochial approach to American sports, and I roll my eyes every time I watch the "World," Series, or see the NFL or NBA champions declare themselves the "World Champions." To the small-minded person, there is comfort in believing that beyond America's Atlantic and Pacific shores there exists nothing but a great void; the World Cup challenges this in ways that the Olympics do not. After all, America does pretty well in the Olympics, but not so much in the World Cup.

There is no easier column for a small-minded person to write than the "soccer stinks" column. After all, every sport has its drawbacks, even soccer. But soccer fans, just ignore this noise. After all, Jim Rome spends an awful lot of time trashing a sport that you don't care about, so you should take the slings and arrows of small minds as a sign you're doing the right thing.

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