This Isn't Really About Soccer, Is It?

I don't care about soccer or the World Cup. And despite the constant media buzz about it, I doubt most of good, old-fashioned America does either. I think that's why Ann Coulter wrote this piece last week: Any Growing Interest in Soccer a Sign of Nation's Moral Decay. I may not get the hype, but many of my friends do. So rather than fall into Glenn Beck-ish syncretism like Coulter, I'll let them respond to these silly allegations.


Guest post by Mike Blissett

According to Coulter, a morally robust nation is one that celebrates machismo. Football takes the fore in her argument as an undertaking only for the especially virile, and that tent pole is reeling against accusations of late. If grown men want to destroy their bodies for six-figure paychecks, they’re welcome to do so; that is their liberty indeed. However, the established football culture leads to increased concussions in youth leagues, to kids who will never play in college, let alone professionally. Coulter wants to venerate a sport whose despondent ex-pros commit suicide while preserving their brains for scientists to study, at the sometimes aggressive opposition of the NFL. If that’s strength, I want no part of it. If any sport signifies moral decay, it’s football.

#USAvBEL viewing party at Soldier Field via @ChicagoFire
Coulter views America as perfect in itself, utopia achieved in our lifetime, passed down to us from our great-grandfathers. Therefore, the country is only strong when it resists all change. This goes beyond “my country, right or wrong” to reach “my country, right or else.” Anyone who disagrees is not a patriot. He is an infant or an invader. We’re to surmise that foreigners carry with them a kind of disease that poisons society simply by their being here, a disease that leads to cultural emasculation and childish sensationalism. She must have America, independent and swaggering, free from the influence of the simpering Left. The message is clear: conform or get out.

More disturbingly, Coulter culture arises not from good vs. evil, but from honor vs. shame. The virtue of good culture against evil is that it appeals to a standard that everyone generally agrees on. The dark truth of honor culture against shame is that it appeals to emotions that everyone experiences differently. Obviously, there is nothing evil about a sport inherently, but you can choose to honor it or shame it as ferociously as you desire without the inconvenience of being objectively wrong.

When someone does something you think is wrong, despise them. When another does what you deem right, send for the gilded palanquin. It’s not enough that the person does what is right or wrong. Everyone must know whether or not you align yourself with the person. That’s the third component of Coulter’s America: individualism. One must involve oneself in everything and have an opinion about it as well. And down with the one who disagrees with me.

In Coulter’s America, a strong reaction is better than weighing any merits. It’s more righteous to react than to research and respond. Every new thing is a threat to the present perfection. But a world where nothing ever changes goes awfully stale. We ought to preserve the most important traditions and principles that govern society, but novel people and ideas are no threat to a strong foundation. If a burgeoning interest in soccer can make the sky fall, then the sky was very close to the ground all along.


A Point-by-point Appendix
Coutler's quotes in bold followed by Mike's comments

I've held off on writing about soccer for a decade — or about the length of the average soccer game — so as not to offend anyone.

This is a common accusation against soccer, but it’s based in perception rather than reality. The total duration of a soccer match is rarely more than two hours. For comparison, the average length of a Major League Baseball game has not been below 2 hours 50 minutes in the past 20 years. The NFL is even worse – about 3 hours per game. Most of that time is commercials and folks just standing around.

If a soccer match seems boring to you, it’s probably because you have a short attention span, or you don’t care to learn what to look for in a match. Like the adagio of a concerto, there’s always action if you know where to find it.

Any growing interest in soccer can only be a sign of the nation's moral decay.

It’s difficult to imagine that anything short of blood sport could signify moral decay, but I’ll come back to this later.

In soccer, the blame is dispersed and almost no one scores anyway...There are no heroes, no losers, no accountability, and no child's fragile self-esteem is bruised.

Players are remembered years later for saving, scoring or missing goals at crucial moments or in spectacular fashion. The thrust of the argument, though, is that pro soccer is analogous to youth soccer, which is like saying a boxed chemistry set is equivalent to working at Pfizer.

Blame is dispersed regularly in pro sports. A good manager won’t throw his pitcher under the bus after a poor outing. A quarterback’s offensive line won’t trash talk him to the media, even if he was calling an awful game. Team sports are team sports at every level, and the pariah is always the guy who starts affixing blame. The blame game is a media creation, not a locker room reality.

There’s no dispersal of blame that can keep a child from being bruised. I should know. I spent years in youth sports, not one of which could I play effectively. Every year was another bruising. Bruises turned into calluses. I still don’t play well with others. Is that Coulter’s American way? And as for accountability, what cruel adult would try to pin a team performance on an 8-year-old?

Do they even have MVPs in soccer? Everyone just runs up and down the field and, every once in a while, a ball accidentally goes in.

Yes, they do. Regionally, it’s called some variation on Player of the Season. Internationally, it’s called the Ballon d’Or, which Coulter would hate because it’s French. Again, youth soccer and pro soccer are not equivalent. The pros score fewer goals, but more deliberate goals.
No serious sport is co-ed, even at the kindergarten level.

There have been female quarterbacks and offensive linewomen in high school football, plus kickers at the highest collegiate level. Maybe football isn’t a serious sport.

No other "sport" ends in as many scoreless ties as soccer.

True. That doesn’t mean those were bad games. Plenty of baseball games end 1-0 after extra innings, and since Coulter is concerned about game length, over one thousand games in baseball history have been over four hours long.

[I]t's a lot harder to score when a half-dozen 300-pound bruisers are trying to crush you.

Mere moments ago, Coulter opined that no one scores in soccer, and now it’s a badge of honor that it’s hard to score in football. If it’s so much harder, why does it happen so much more often?

The prospect of either personal humiliation or major injury is required to count as a sport… In hockey, there are three or four fights a game… with a puck flying around at 100 miles per hour.

Personal humiliation. Major injury – don’t watch that video if you’re squeamish. Hockey players get fined and suspended for fighting. That puck is serious business, though.

After a football game, ambulances carry off the wounded. After a soccer game, every player gets a ribbon and a juice box.

After a football game, every player gets a helmet sticker and a Gatorade. During a soccer game, they have the decency to stop playing altogether when a player is near death.

You can't use your hands in soccer.

Well, you can, but you get in trouble (though in this case, his team won without him).

What sets man apart from the lesser beasts, besides a soul, is that we have opposable thumbs.

Opossums have opposable thumbs. I discovered this in ten seconds. Were this a biology exam, Coulter would not pass. And the jury is still out on whether or not animals have souls. Is a soul the imago dei? That’s what separates man apart from the beasts, if anything does.

The same people trying to push soccer on Americans are the ones demanding that we love HBO's "Girls," light-rail, Beyonce and Hillary Clinton.

Coulter should understand that if anyone is “pushing soccer on Americans,” it’s American sports networks. They don’t spend millions on the broadcast rights without an audience, and soccer delivers exactly what they want – increases in every key demographic since 2006. Sports media have no interest in light-rail unless one can get fans to the stadium more efficiently. Their interest in Beyonce and Hillary is limited to their appearances at sporting events.

[African-Americans] remain distinctly unimpressed by the fact that the French like [soccer].

I have no idea what this has to do with anything. I remain distinctly unimpressed that the French like baguettes, but that doesn’t mean that American supermarkets shouldn’t sell them.

Soccer is like the metric system, which liberals also adore because it's European. Naturally, the metric system emerged from the French Revolution, during the brief intervals when they weren't committing mass murder by guillotine.

The Union instituted paper notes during the Civil War, during the brief intervals when they weren’t killing their own countrymen. Everyone who loves the metric system loves it because it’s logical and regimented. Confirmation bias will get you nowhere.

Liberals get angry and tell us that the metric system is more "rational" than the measurements everyone understands. This is ridiculous. An inch is the width of a man's thumb, a foot the length of his foot, a yard the length of his belt. That's easy to visualize. How do you visualize 147.2 centimeters?

People who grew up with the metric system wouldn’t visualize 147.2 centimeters. They would visualize 1.472 meters as the length which Americans say is about five feet. It’s easy to visualize when it’s all you’ve known. 2 centimeters to a man’s thumb, 30 to his foot, and a meter to his belt. That’s not difficult. You have to learn the number of inches to feet and feet to yards by rote.

I’ll put it another way. In some languages, the speakers don’t speak in Cartesian coordinates – right, left, front, back – but in cardinal directions. You’d have to drill into them that “left” is relative to their own body, instead of their body being relative to geography.

Soccer is not "catching on."

It’s actually doing about as well as the NHL and the NBA as far as game-day attendance (even catching up to soccer stalwart nations), and I’ve already debunked the notion that soccer is moribund in home viewing.

The USA-Portugal game was the blockbuster match, garnering 18.2 million viewers on ESPN…Sunday Night Football games average more than 20 million viewers…this year's Super Bowl had 111.5 million viewers.

So a Sunday night soccer game garnered 90% of the viewer count of an NFL game? That sounds pretty good to me. Comparing the Super Bowl to any other television program is not realistic. Super Bowls are the most watched events in American television history.

Remember when the media tried to foist British soccer star David Beckham and his permanently camera-ready wife on us a few years ago? Their arrival in America was heralded with 24-7 news coverage. That lasted about two days. Ratings tanked. No one cared.

I do remember, mostly because he was one of the best players in the world coming to play in a country which was supposed to echo Coulter’s sentiments on the subject, but also because he immediately became the highest-paid player in the league by far. As for ratings, they all tank regularly. That’s why ESPN2 doesn’t air Australian Rules Football anymore. How much do you hear about the “Linsanity” hype now that he’s playing a slightly above-average game? They made a movie about him once!

If more "Americans" are watching soccer today, it's only because of the demographic switch effected by Teddy Kennedy's 1965 immigration law.

Scare quotes, xenophobia, and a dig at the Kennedy family could sum up this op-ed all by itself, but I refuse to let it.

No American whose great-grandfather was born here is watching soccer.

My great-grandfathers were born here, and like most white Americans, I claim Native American ancestry that I can’t really prove, so I’m set with the true American qualification. I do watch soccer, and it’s wonderful.

One can only hope that, in addition to learning English, these new Americans will drop their soccer fetish with time.

I speak English well enough, I am a lifelong American, and I have no intention of abandoning any of my teams.