Alternate Title: My Soccer Rant
Is soccer (AKA football) a gay sport?
Colombian soccer dance:
Every self-respecting, ugly American has to make fun of soccer. But to be honest, the real reason I clown it may be out of defense. When non-American gringo expats or Latin Americans ask why my country sucks at soccer, what can I say?
I say, “In my country, it’s a girl’s sport.” And that’s not entirely untrue. Ask any American to fill in this blank:
Lucy was a […] star in both high school and college.
They’ll all say soccer. American women do much better in international competition than their male counterparts because they play at higher rates.
Despite being the ugly American, I never would have made these statements before moving to South America. Some of my best friends played soccer in high school. I had a few pals on my university’s soccer team, and they attended our house parties. St. Louis is one of the country’s top soccer hotbeds.
I only started disparaging soccer when I moved to Latin America where, as I explain to domestic gringos, soccer is baseball, [American] football, basketball, and hockey combined. It’s all there is, and all the European expats think it’s cool too. I tell these domestic gringos, who assume I’d like soccer because I spent so much time abroad, that there are two types of American expats:
American Expat, Type 1 – This gringo owns a jersey from his favorite Liga team. He has a favorite player and gets emotional during his team’s games. Maybe he even sheds a tear at their losses. He offers his expert opinion at the bar and on Facebook.
American Expat, Type 2 – This gringo constantly explains to Europeans and Latins that he doesn’t know how to play soccer because it is a girl’s sport in the United States.
Trust me, Type 1 is more annoying.
True World Sport
Jokes aside, soccer is inarguably the true world sport. Why?
Basketball is hot in Spain and Argentina, and it’s growing in Mexico. However, basketball will never be a true world sport because of its design. Because the rim is ten feet high, an inherent advantage goes to height. If every country in the world switched from soccer to basketball tomorrow, the only countries with a chance at world championships would be those with taller average height in the population. Never Mexico, Costa Rica, or Greece. The soccer ball being on the ground is an equalizer in that respect.
Baseball favors brawn, but it’s not a dealbreaker. However baseball doesn’t have much adoption past the United States, the Latin American countries with banana colonies, and Japan. Despite gaining popularity in Brazil, American football requires brawn most countries wouldn’t have to compete. Hockey only gains rabid following and tradition in regions where the lakes and ponds are frozen over for a few months every year.
Physical advantages aside, soccer is also the great equalizer in regards to economics. While soccer is a white boy sport in the United States, it’s the true poor man’s sport globally. Baseball, hockey, and American football all require expensive equipment. You may think basketball is a poor man’s sport, but it requires a ten-foot rim. Step out of your abundance paradigm and realize that, in poor countries, public 10-foot rims don’t get built. Or they get stolen for the metal. For soccer, only a ball is needed. African countries are competitive at the international level.
Soccer is the true world sport, but there are some obstacles to its catching on in the United States.
Obstacle #1: Skill vs. Athleticism
All professional sports feature world-class skill, but American sports fans prefer athleticism and amazing shows of strength and speed. Soccer highlight reels are exhibitions of skill as opposed to power.
Sure, soccer players can run. But speed doesn’t make or break a soccer player. I am not a soccer expert, but from what I’ve seen it’s clear that an athlete’s 40-yard dash (or mile run), standing vertical jump, and bench press won’t tell you anything about his performance on the field. In American football, on the other hand, those metrics are huge.
American consumers want 100 mile-per-hour fastballs and 400-foot home runs, fast breaks and two-hand dunks, or 250-pound linebackers smashing through 300-pound lineman to tackle 200-pound, truck-built, fast-as-greased-lightning running backs.
Obstacle #2: High-Meter vs. Low-Meter
High-meter entertainment is Transformers, Avatar, and Die Hard. Comedies include Scary Movie, Family Guy, Jackass. Books like The Da Vinci Code and anything by Steven King. Americans prefer high-meter.
Specifically the Europeans seem to be better at low-meter, which I personally love. Sacha Baron Cohen did brilliant low-meter comedy with Da Ali G Show before dumbing it down to the high-meter blockbusters, Borat and Bruno.
This is my nice way of saying soccer is boring. It’s ‘low-meter’. Conan O’Brien’s comic dog, Triumph, cracks:
As soon as the teams are done jogging and warming up, they’re going to start the game. Oh wait, I’ve just been informed that this is the game, and I’ve actually been watching soccer for the last two hours.
Of all the low-meter aspects in soccer, the most difficult are the scoreless ties. Those matches that end in 90 minutes of ZERO. This World Cup has seen seven (7) scoreless ties out of 64 games. That’s over 10%. Throw in all the one-goal games and you have a problem with American consumers.
Ugly Americans can irritate their international friends by suggesting ways to make soccer less low-meter. My favorite is no goalies. Seriously, removing goalies just for “extra time” would be exciting. Or half-court extra time with only forwards. Or full-contact soccer with enforcers as in hockey.
Obstacle #3: Flopping
Flopping (definition): the act of pretending a foul has been committed in the hopes of fooling an official into blowing the whistle.
While watching soccer the ugly Americans will yell at the screen during some point, “Get up, pussy!”
See this hilarious article on the most egregious flopping in 2014, The World Cup Flopping Rankings. I doubt such an article would appear in a British or French newspaper (correct me if I’m wrong in comments). The article ranks countries by frequency of time in anguish, writhing time, speed of flopping, and more. Interestingly, the U.S. team ranks among the more egregious of World Cup actresses.
But American sports fans are different than American soccer players. Flopping is frowned upon. What Europeans believe to be naivety and unrealistic optimism in all the “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” propaganda, Americans are by and large true believers.
Flopping became a factor in hockey, and the NHL started penalizing players for “Unsportsmanlike Conduct.” A penalty in hockey is very undesirable, often resulting in an opposing goal. The hockey-flopping problem was solved.
Just last year, flopping in basketball became a problem. As wise to American tastes as the NHL is, the NBA brought the hammer down. They even released a video highlighting what acts of flopping would be called for a foul, in the process calling out specific players. (It’s no coincidence two of them were European, although in Spain’s defense Pau Gasol set the bad-ass pick on the Italian flopper).
The Obstacle is the Way
Despite these obstacles I’ve listed, soccer is undoubtedly catching on in the United States. American visitors now make up the largest national demographic to the FIFA website. I’m currently working at a bar. And each day the United States played, the bar was packed with people screaming at televisions. If you’d have heard the ruckus 10 years ago, you would have assumed it to be American football, baseball, basketball, or hockey. But soccer is becoming cool for the same reasons it wasn’t cool before.
Americans may prefer extraordinary athleticism, but what does that imply? I’m 6’2, 220 lbs. My wife is 5’5, 120 lbs. I’ll be lucky if my son grows to 6’2. Even if I raise him from the womb to eat, sleep, and pray basketball, he will only be eligible for one position: point guard. A shooting guard or small forward needs to be 6’6, and a low-post player 6’10.
If I put the boy on barbell strength training as soon as he can walk, and raise him in Texas, I doubt he’ll weigh more than 220 at 18 years old. He will never play a strength position in college or professional American football. And given I don’t have genetic, high-twitch muscularity, he’ll probably only run a mid-four-second 40-yard dash if he weighs less than 180 lbs (at the maximum 6’2). He won’t play a speed position either.
My point is that these high-meter, athletic feats are performed by genetically-endowed freaks. Of course hard work, dedication, and sacrifice played a role. But without genetic excellence a guy will not compete in those sports. In soccer, on the other hand, skill is the defining quality. Lionel Messi is 5’7, 150 lbs. Soccer is a true equalizer, the everyman’s sport.
Not all Americans need this high-meter, high-octane entertainment. Check out the Velvet Underground or Wes Anderson films. Read Old Man and The Sea. And look at the popularity of golf and NASCAR (although I can’t call those “sports”).
I don’t think there’s a way around flopping with the American consumer of sports entertainment. I think if soccer continues to grow in the United States, the international community will be increasingly annoyed at the Americans’ insistence on curbing the flopping in soccer. But we’ll see.
I don’t have a way to limit the following poll to U.S. citizens, but I’ll kindly ask you only to vote if you are, in fact, a U.S. citizen. If you aren’t a U.S. citizen, we can safely assume your sentiment is as a Mexican friend once said, “Anybody who calls futbol ‘soccer’ is gay.”
More Worldly Than Sport
Irresistible about soccer is the nationalism. I lived in Bogota when Colombia hosted the Under-20 World Cup, for which Colombia was a competitor with a respectable squad. The energy in the streets and bars is beyond contagious. No matter how anti-soccer you are, you will watch. And you will cheer.
I lived in Lima during the height of the Peru-Chile maritime dispute of 2013. Tensions ran so high that Telefonica ran an ad campaign promoting the countries’ friendship. Nobody bought it, especially when Chile came for a “friendly” with Peru at the Estadio Nacional. I did my bodyweight exercises at the park next to a group of over 100 Peruvians in jerseys, beating drums and singing Peruvian anthems about their superiority over the eternal enemy, Chile. You bet your ass I cheered Peru to victory that night.
Despite being back home where I shouldn’t care, my ears perked up when little Costa Rica beat the venerable Italy. And when Spain bounced out during group play. And after being dominated for generations, Team America finally beat Ghana!
One of the sport’s bigger stories of the year were the Brazilian protests. While Iberian classism is standard public policy, Brazilians took to the streets in anger over the hundreds of millions of dollars the government is spending to host the World Cup while millions live in poverty. Will the discontent and civil unrest resume when it dawns on Brazilians that they spent all that money to be dealt their worst World Cup defeat in history? Will it be further aggravated if their arch-rival, Argentina, wins the World Cup on Brazilian soil, on the Brazilian public dime?
Will I be watching the big game? You bet your ass.
I’m publishing this provocatively-titled article and others every day during the Kickstarter campaign to fund This Mick’s Life: Addiction and Underworld from Ireland to Colombia. See the Kickstarter page here: