Now that the World Cup is over, we can finally get some respite from that quadrennial scourge, the op-ed piece on why Americans don’t like soccer. It’s an editorial staple, a lazy space-filler that practically writes itself: Americans need high scores! We need commercial breaks so we can pee and get more Budweiser out of the fridge! We hate kicking things! We love using our hands! And so on.
Now if you’re going to write The Soccer Piece, you can play it straight, like Michael Mandelbaum in the Guardian, or you can assume an intentionally combative position, like Frank Cannon and Richard Lessner in The Weekly Standard:
Our country has yet to succumb to the nihilism, existentialism, and anomie that have overtaken Europe. A game about nothing, in which scoring is purely incidental, holds scant interest for Americans who still believe the world makes sense, that life has a larger meaning and structure, that being is not an end in itself, being qua being.
Take that, Old Europe! The Economist contrasts socialist soccer to capitalist American football. Whatever.
I happen to like soccer, so naturally I’m biased to think that, just possibly, Americans can enjoy watching this sport. I think our national predilection is simply a product of history. Soccer spread at a time when Britain had the world’s greatest empire. It’s economic influence was unexcelled. It exercised direct influence over much of the world except for the US. Moreover, this British sports-culture diaspora happened during a time of worldwide nation-building and nascent nationalism. But the US was politically aloof at the time, and we were also, incidentally, making our own weird sportive inventions.
I think Marco R. della Cava, writing in USA Today, gets it right: Hey, soccer’s not so popular now, but sooner or later it will be. In the meantime, cranky Europeans should lighten up. Let us have our strange sports with long breaks and shoulder pads. Big deal. Feel good about the fact that you trounce us so easily in your favorite game. Here’s a good quote from the USA Today piece.
“Soccer is a great passion play for much of the world,” says Paddy Agnew, a Rome-based correspondent for the Irish Times who is covering the World Cup in Germany. “The people I talk to are glad the world’s only superpower isn’t much better than it is. If they won this, too, that’d be the end. What could the rest of the world aspire to?”
As for the time when that blessed hour arrives and America finally rallies around its national club and succeeds on the World Cup pitch, it will be just as easy then to write op-ed pieces about why Americans do like soccer after all. It’s always easy to justify the evident. But sometimes it’s just the opposite that makes more sense. I am convinced that Americans should, by their nature, loathe baseball. If our so-called national pastime didn’t already exist, it would never catch on now. Here’s my fantasy op-ed piece from that alternate reality.
Every four years the Baseball “World Series” rolls around, and people around the globe go apeshit for baseball. Everyone in the world except, of course, for us. And why don’t Americans get it? What’s so un-American about baseball? Here are the top reasons:
- Red-blooded Americans need action. Most of the time nothing is happening at a baseball game. If it weren’t for The Wave, the crowd would be fast asleep.
- We like precise time keeping for that all-important endgame drama. Look at the last-second shenanigans of basketball; consider the football field goals with zero seconds on the clock. How can you pace yourself when there’s no official clock?
- Swatting at a little round ball with a stick? So gay. Maybe that’s okay for a round of golf at the country club, but it’s no way for a so-called athlete to earn his money.
Baseball. Just think of it as God’s way of keeping little countries busy while we run the world.