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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Conservatives and Soccer

What is it about conservatives and soccer? John C. Miller wrote on NRO that the bright side of the United States' loss to Ghana was that fans "may now return their attentions to the better and more American sport of baseball." Jonathan Last of The Weekly Standard pointed out the the flaws of soccer and its inability to penetrate the American sports market. His argument? Soccer never will achieve widespread viewer success because of the "the flop-'n'-bawl." American spectators value heroic playing-through-injuries performances like Willis Reed and will never embrace a sport where feigning injury leads to an advantage. I can actually sympathize with this argument. I hate the diving and absurd reactions to minimal or no contact. It's a problem that FIFA needs to address. They've tried with cards, but I think post-game punishments after video review need to be implemented more widely. All that to say, I can understand why viewers hate the antics. Of course, I still watch baseball despite accumulating evidence that steroids, HGH, and other performance-enhancing drugs are more widespread, result-skewing, and record-tainting than we'd care to admit. Americans still watch basketball--though probably less than 10 years ago--despite league rules that are dictated by marketing more than basketball purity. It's why the superstars get the calls. Ask the Dallas Mavericks if they feel it affects outcomes. We could go on but the point is that every sport has a culture and set of rules that hinder the integrity and quality of the game.

Frank Cannon and Richard Lessner jump the shark in soccer-hate, however, with their Weekly Standard piece. Here's the jest of their case:
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.

Cannon and Lessner then complain about ties and few goals, describe soccer as "22 men running up and down a grassy field for 90 minutes with little happening as fans scream wildly," and accuse fans and announcers of calling shots 20-30 yards over the post "near misses." I can't spend too much space on this, but on the latter accusation, all I can say with complete bafflement is, "Huh?" The aimless-running-up-and-down the field description belies little understanding about the game of soccer. Everyone has a right not to like soccer, of course. I do think it may be wise, before making sweeping criticisms in print, to learn a little about the strategy and dynamics of the sport rather than offer up farcical, vacuous statements revealing a lack of understanding about the topic. As for the frustration over ties and lack of goals, I think appreciating many aspects of the game helps deal with those. But it may not be your cup of tea and that's fine.

Cannon and Lessner aren't done, however. There's more:
DESPITE HEROIC EFFORTS of soccer moms, suburban liberals, and World Cup hype, soccer will never catch on as a big time sport in America.

Ahh, I see where this is headed now. It's those soccer moms (aka Clinton voters), liberals and internationalists who are pushing this nihilistic sport upon us! It gets better: Cannon and Lessner say that since existentialism and nihilism haven't taken hold in the United States like they have in Europe, soccer doesn't flourish here as it does there. You know, b/c it's an inherently meaningless sport and everything.

Of course, the most obvious objection to this thesis are the glaringly missing other parts of the world. Christianity has exploded in the Republic of Korea. So has soccer. I seem to recall a large number of Catholics and Pentecostals in South and Central America. Lots of soccer fans there, too. Africa, anyone? Hmm, seem to recall that religion is prevalent and that soccer is wildy popular. These aren't exactly bastions of nihilistic existentialism but they sure have a lot of soccer fans.

For time's sake, I won't even address the argument that soccer is contrary to human nature b/c players use their heads but not hands to hit the ball. (Oh dear.) My point: why is it that many conservatives have such a beef with soccer? Can you imagine the National Review doing a World Cup blog like The New Republic? Discuss...

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