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Get Off Your High Horse

June 15, 2010

There’s been a big to-do recently on the Internets, inspired by the World Cup, on why the Right hates soccer and why the Left seems to love it so much.  I guess I don’t really understand it—I like soccer.  I played until I was twelve.  I think pick-up soccer is one of the most fun things to do.  I watched the Euro two years ago.  I usually watch the champions league final.  I’m familiar with most of the best players in the world.  I spent a significant amount of time in a soccer-rabid country and did just fine.  I, however, am still the type of guy who gets scoffed at by soccer snobs just because I happen to like football, basketball, baseball, and hockey better.  I’d like for you to remember this: soccer has good aspects and bad aspects, just like anything else, the reason a lot of conservatives don’t like soccer is because of snooty liberals, and most importantly, soccer is NOT the future.

Liberals like to think that soccer is the next big thing in American sports, even though right now nerds, i.e. the less athletic among us, dominate it.  It makes sense to “give soccer time”, especially given that it’s by far the most popular youth sport, in the sense that more kids play soccer than anything else.  Hell, soccer is beautiful at times, too—did anybody see the goals Brazil scored today against the Norks?  They were both works of art.  I don’t see this “soccer is the future” thing flying, though.  The reason that so many kids play soccer is precisely because it is a nerd sport.

One of the great things about football is that you don’t have to do it from the time you’re born to be good at it.  You can pick it up when you’re thirteen and do just as well as anybody who has been playing since they were seven if you’re athletic enough for it.  The same is not true for baseball and basketball—go ask somebody who played neither as a child to have a catch with you or shoot some free throws; it’s not something you can just start doing immediately.  But you don’t have to play youth football to play high school football, so a whole lot of parents keep their kids from playing junior tackle because, well, they don’t want to risk their kids getting concussions before the age of twelve.  That’s one of the reasons for lacrosse’s soaring popularity—it’s a contact sport that is significantly less dangerous than football.

So what else is there to do in the fall when you’re nine years old and you don’t play fall baseball/lacrosse?  Well, there’s soccer—there’s not very much contact, it gets elementary schoolers running around, and best of fall, everyone can play.  You don’t have to be fast, you don’t have to jump, and you don’t have to be able to catch or throw anything.  Obviously, the more athletic players who can handle the ball will be better, but it’s a lot easier to suck at soccer and still play than it is anything else.  That’s why it’s the biggest youth sport in America.

The guys who play soccer in high school are, generally speaking, the guys who didn’t make the football team or the baseball team.  It’s not a knock against them, but it’s just natural for these cats to be resentful of those who don’t like soccer.  There are of course plenty of reasons not to like soccer anyway—the players are the biggest wusses in all of sports, the fans always start riots for no reason, and nobody ever scores—but being a snob about soccer just amounts to either having a big chip on your shoulder or wanting to impress somebody from another country.  And heads up on the latter: soccer, as Robert Stacy McCain explains, is a foreign redneck’s game.  Upper-to-middle-class soccer fandom is an American phenomenon:

When I was in London in 2008, I spent a couple hours hanging out at a pub with a couple of blokes who were drinking away the afternoon in preparation for going to that evening’s Arsenal game/riot. Take away their Cockney accents, and these working-class guys might as well have been a couple of Bubbas gearing up for the Alabama-Auburn game.

They were, in a phrase, British rednecks.

And this is who soccer fans are, everywhere in the world except among the college-educated American elite.

In Rio or Rome, the soccer fan is a Regular José or a Regular Giuseppe. It is a low-brow, blue-collar sport, beloved by rowdy hooligans the way ghetto kids in America love the NBA or hillibillies in east Tennessee love NASCAR.

Out there, in the rest of the world crammed full of foreigners, amongst limeys and wogs, krauts and dagos and chinks — and especially beaners – futbol es muy macho.

By contrast, if an American is that kind of Regular Joe, he doesn’t watch soccer. He watches the NFL or bass fishing tournaments or Ultimate Fighting. In an American context, avid soccer fandom is almost exclusively located among two groups of people (a) foreigners — God bless ‘em — and (b) pretentious yuppie snobs.

Bad news, cosmopolitans: being a soccer fan does not make you sophisticated.  Soccer is an extraordinarily simple game.  If you want a thinking man’s sport, try coordinating an NFL defense.  That’s complex.  As for soccer sweeping the nation, I just don’t see it.  The best athletes are still going to play football, basketball, and baseball, especially since there will never be more money in soccer than either of those.  And, for the overprotective parents, there’s lacrosse, which will be as popular as soccer far before soccer overtakes any of the big three.  I mean, I like soccer.  But get off it, nerds.

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