Let me say this up front – I am not a huge fan of soccer. I respect the athleticism of the players, and I respect the insane passion of the fans. And, anyone who follows sports has to give some nod to the single sporting event that is by far the most consuming of any in the world. But, the game itself is often boring. The fact that 1-0 and 2-1 are the most common outcomes is boring. The fact that there appears to be so little variance between the teams is uninteresting. The fact that so many players are so uninvolved so much of the time diminishes the game. Many of the same things could be said about baseball, which I love fervently, but there are many more possible outcomes to a baseball game than a soccer game and, whereas in soccer, there’s no guarantee that a team will get its offensive shots in, in baseball, it’s mandated that a team will get its licks.
But, it’s a sport among some right-wing commentators to
engage in soccer-bashing. Bruce Jacobs, of FOX sports radio likes to make
unsubtle comments about the manliness of soccer players as well as fans of the
sport. And, now, the Weekly Standard has set a new standard for the genre in
their recent column, Nil Nil, to demonstrate their American-ness, machismo and
The column’s writers, Frank Cannon and Richard Lessner, no doubt meant to have some fun in explaining why soccer is so bad. But, it’s such a good illustration of the lame publication in which it appears that I couldn’t let it pass.
The main charge reads as follows:
“Soccer is the perfect game for the post-modern world. It's the quintessential expression of the nihilism that prevails in many cultures, which doubtlessly accounts for its wild popularity in Europe. Soccer is truly Seinfeldesque, a game about nothing, sport as sensation.”
A central feature of the right’s schizophrenia is its troubled relationship to cultural tastes and preferences. Many on the right, like George Will and David Brooks, see themselves as crusaders against cultural decline, a demise in standards and lack of respect for or recognition of transcendent truth and beauty. This role as cultural arbiter (whatwould be called liberal elitism if mouthed by a liberal) has always been tough to square with an equally intense devotion to the free market and the accompanying notion that “anything goes,” that popular preferences assigning value and that anyone opposed to such a system for determining worth must be, well, an elitist snob. Of course, since the Standard article is just an exercise in barely disguised xenophobia, it dodges the thornier question of why so many people all over the world love the game so passionately (sorry guys, it’s not just effete, libertine Europe that likes soccer, in case you hadn’t noticed) and, who, therefore, anointed Cannon and Lessner elitist protectors of legitimate global tastes.
Cannon and Lessner also go in for lines like the following, which might constitute real insight in a high school English class:
“Mostly soccer is just guys in shorts running around aimlessly, a metaphor for the meaninglessness of life.”
Actually, the concern about men in shorts emerges more than once and, thank goodness for that – after all, there is a homophobia quota that needs to be met in any right-wing publication worth its salt. And, of course, Cannon and Lessner are merely following a simple formula: men running around in shorts+Europe=gay. Did I say high school earlier? Maybe I should be more specific – how about sophomoric.
Cannon and Lessner also say that soccer moms and “suburban liberals” have made “heroic efforts” to try to increase soccer’s profile in America, but to no avail. Believe me, I know it can be fun to write stuff that requires no substantiation whatsoever. But, suburban liberals engaged in heroic efforts to promote soccer in America?! Where the hell do they get that from? That must be when said liberals aren't piloting Black helicopters on behalf of the UN.
And, why won’t soccer ever gain a foothold here:
“Our country has yet to succumb to the nihilism, existentialism, and anomie that have overtaken Europe.”
Yes, you know, the same nihilism and anomie that have allowed the advanced European countries to live longer than we do and maintain dramatically lower rates of crime, especially violent crime.
Then there is an idiotic discussion about soccer being contrary to nature because what distinguishes humans from all other animals are our large brains and our ability to use our opposable thumbs (which no doubt, we acquired six thousand years ago, a couple of days after God created the earth). Soccer players are expressly denied use of the latter. Concerning the former, Cannon and Lessner note that other sports, like baseball and American football, sensibly require people to protect their heads from injury, consistent with nature’s law, while soccer defies all human instinct by encouraging players to use their heads.
You'll be disappointed to know, however, that Cannon and Lessner fail to provide data showing how many more head injuries there are in soccer than American football.
Cannon and Lessner also cleverly note that Donkeys, because they have four legs, no opposable thumbs and are indifferent to head injures would be ideal soccer players:
“Soccer, then, would appear to be a game better suited to dim-witted quadrupeds than to human beings.”
Apparently, so would writing sports commentary for the
Nicely put, and I fired off a letter back to them along different lines (though mentioning that, for nancy boys, interesting the caliber of women these players seem to be hanging with.)
They totally seemed to miss the marketplace issues with soccer.
"All in all, in your anthropological flailing about in, to you, obviously unknown waters to come to some jab at some place on the globe through their play-time I’m shocked you couldn’t come to a more conservative reasoning for soccer failing in the US – the market place! The reason soccer struggles here is that we have so many darn different established sports to choose from (and good ones too.) Why go the political route when you can go the capitalistic one of simple competition?
Still, one has to ask if the product of soccer is so questionable, why does that sport appeal to billions and while our American games only appeal to millions? There’s your free global market working."