It Seems To Me . . .
Memo to soccer haters: Just shut up!
By Robert Wagman
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Wednesday. July 26, 2006) -- I'll let you into a secret of mine: I don't much like baseball. Next to cricket (with apologies to my colleague, the Mad Brit), it is about as boring a sport as ever devised by the mind of man -- a sport in which they manage to cram 10 minutes of action into a four-hour block of time.
I don't like baseball, and only rarely, every couple of years, do I get dragged to a game. But I don't get bothered that it's our "national pastime." For those who love the sport, and I recognize there are a great many, I don't begrudge them their love of the game. And above all, I have never felt compelled to write about or broadcast my general disinterest and, at times disdain, for the sport.
So why do people who don't like soccer feel absolutely compelled to shout to the world their hatred of the sport and to try to belittle anyone who enjoys playing or watching what we call "the beautiful game."
A World Cup brings out the worst in the haters. For some reason, when it's apparent that most of the rest of the world finds the competition completely compelling -- and they hear that many times more people watch the matches on television than have ever watched a Super Bowl or World Series or National Basketball Association Finals -- it brings out the worst in them.
They shout that the world is wrong to love soccer and that it is absolutely right for any American to turn his or her back to the sport. In their minds, it seems almost a patriotic duty to speak out against the sport and against anyone who seems to be enjoying it.
This was evident during the recent World Cup in Germany. Here are just a couple of examples.
Certainly the most schizophrenic American publication during the World Cup was USA Today. At substantial cost, it had two reporters -- Andy Gardiner and Kelly Whiteside -- crisscrossing Germany for the entire Cup and supplemented their daily stories with reports from freelancers and wire services. If anything, the newspaper's coverage of Germany 2006 was exemplary.
At the same the sports pages was expending significant resources and space in an effort to report everything that was happening at the Cup, the paper felt it necessary to belittle the sport and its fans both on its editorial page and even on the front page.
William J. Mattox, Jr., who is described as a member of the paper's "board of contributors," was kind enough in a three-column op-ed piece to explain why it is perfectly acceptable for Americans (note: "Americans" and not people or sports fans) to hate soccer.
And then, of course, Mattox gives his solution that will make all Americans suddenly love the game -- increase the scoring. His formula would be one point for a penalty kick, two for a close-in goal and three points for a longer range goal. That way, he said soccer would be "more like a marriage (with frequent scoring) and less like abstinence."
Then just before the championship match, Marco R. della Cava wrote a cover story on why Americans hate soccer, something about the "unnaturalness of players not using their hands." It was a straight forward story, well reported, but the oddity of it to me was why the paper felt it necessary to run it on the weekend of the Cup final. I looked in vain for stories on why many people feel baseball is boring run on the first day of the World Series or why many think that football is insanely violent on the day of the Super Bowl.
But, without a doubt, some of the most outrageous editorializing I ran into across the country was in the Polk County (Fla.) Ledger and the The Examiner of San Francisco.
On July 11, Roy Fuoco in the Ledger wrote a column entitled, "The Rest of the World Can Keep the Red Cards."
In his column, Fuoco started out by rejoicing "now soccer can crawl back into its hole and not bother us for another four years." He says his problem is not with the sport itself -- he enjoys covering local high school soccer -- "my problem is with soccer fans, and more to the point, vocal soccer supporters who do more to turn Americans off the game." Noting that it is "the biggest sport in the world outside the United States" he says "yes, one billion people can be wrong."
Then he goes on to say that you hear "millions of kids play youth soccer. . . (and) more kids play youth soccer than youth baseball." These, he says, ". . . are reasons not to like soccer."
Finally he complains that soccer fans have a "condescending" attitude that those who don't appreciate the sport just don't understand it. I am the first to admit that is certainly true, at times, but I am more concerned with the jingoistic attitude clearly represented in Fuoco's column that it is simply un-American to love soccer with the corollary that any right-thinking American has to hate the game.
Writing for The Examiner, Bob Frantz, who is identified as a "local sports personality," whatever that means, starts out by commenting, "Sorry world you can keep your damn cup. Count us out."
He goes on to give the usual jingoistic drivel about how un-American soccer is, at one point calling players, ". . . a bunch of guys from nations most Americans couldn't find on a map to participate in 90 minutes of mind-numbing tedium." He ends by making an offer almost anyone can refuse: "Just don't bring it around here, okay? We won't try and expose the irrelevance of your game as long as you don't try to impose it on us."
I assume it's being imposed on him if it's shown on television and people enjoy it.
Frankly, I just don't understand why people like Fuoco and Frantz feel so personally threatened by soccer. I'm not threatened by baseball, even if I don't speak the language of the sport, which I believe is now Spanish.
Fuoco says he is pleased to hear from you and to debate the merits of penalty kicks and diving and the offside rule. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Frantz can be e-mailed at email@example.com. You might want to share your views on their columns. Please be civil.
One thing Fuoco did say, I agree with. The World Cup is over, so soccer haters who feel the necessity of shouting their hatred from the rooftops, to use his charming turn-of-phrase, can crawl back into their holes for another four years.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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