It’s been interesting during this World Cup season to observe the bizarrely strong negative reaction that soccer often provokes in many Americans.
It’s one thing to be ambivalent to a sport, to simply not care about it either way. It’s another thing entirely to actively dislike a sport so much that you go out of your way to bash it, whether in casual conversation or on Facebook.
Only soccer seems to bring this out in Americans. You’d think the home of both pro wrestling and NASCAR would be a bit more humble about these things.
While everyone is certainly free to like or dislike whatever they want, I’ve grown profoundly bored of the same stale, circa-1980s American criticisms of soccer: The diving (epidemic in our own NBA), the long periods with no scoring (hello, baseball?), the awful referees (every sport everywhere).
There are probably many reasons for the visceral American dislike of The Beautiful Game. Our usual suspicion/jealousy of anything vaguely European is there. There’s also the perennial and pointless complaint, “Why can’t they just use their hands?”
Our abominable sports media fuels the fire; with no U.S. stars to market, their usual jingoism easily morphs into foreigner-bashing.
But I think the main reason most Americans can’t stand soccer is because we tend to reserve a special dislike for things we can’t dominate.
Sadly, many Americans will view the U.S. team’s showing this year not as a bright sign of a truly competitive future, but as one more reason not to watch soccer anymore: We didn’t win it all, therefore soccer sucks.
It’s too bad more Americans aren’t interested in the world’s most popular game, seeing as we do like to influence the rest of the globe so much. Truth be told, America has a lot to teach the soccer world, especially in the area of race.
If you’re not a soccer fan you probably won’t know this, but the level of racism exhibited at European soccer games is incredible — literally incredible, as in unbelievable.
It is frankly stunning:
• Fans holding up a huge banner directed at opposing Jewish fans reading, “Auschwitz is your country, the ovens are your homes.”
• Racist chants directed at opposing team’s African players, often accompanied by bananas and peanuts thrown onto the pitch. As if that weren’t bad enough, fans often direct racist chants to black players on their own sides.
• White supremacist hooligans waving swastika flags and doing Heil Hitler salutes.
As bizarre as this sounds, these border on commonplace incidents in parts of Europe. It’s comforting in some quarters to view Europe as a haven of enlightened thinking, but in practice the truth is often the opposite.
This Fourth of July, it’s important to remember what the fuss is about. While our founding fathers were all white and male, the genius of the framework they set up is why we were able to rid ourselves of such displays of ugliness a half century ago — while Europe is not only still mired in it but apparently getting worse.
This week we honor the long reach of American values with a cover story by New York-based photojournalist Stephen C. Davies. We helped embed Steve with a U.S. Army unit in Baghdad for two weeks earlier this year.
The reemergence of a real art world in Iraq, with all the freedom of expression that entails, is due largely to the efforts of the United States and is a testament to the great example our nation can still set for the rest of the world.