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Monday, July 18, 2005

How Soccer Teaches Us That “The Whole Rest of the World is Nicer, Smarter & In All Ways Better than America”

Tyler News Headline Today: Soccer Game Leads To Bloody Brawl

A friend of mine who hails from a certain European Country which shall remain nameless was at pains through the years of our friendship to explain to me why Soccer was a far superior sport to any of the distinctly American games like football, baseball and basketball. The man held 5 doctoral degrees so I take him seriously. His argument went something like this:
  1. Soccer is a universally popular sport, enjoying a wide audience in virtually every country and culture in the civilized and not so civilized world.
  2. Soccer (or Football) as he insisted on calling it, requires more stamina and athleticism. There aren’t 9 innings. One team doesn’t sit on its collective butt while the other team plays. You don’t get huddles between plays. The field is a proper size, not like a dinky little basketball court where you only have to go a few steps to heave the ball at an undefended basket.
  3. There is an almost zen-like quality to the ebb and flow of play on a soccer field. A symphony of grace, teamwork and harmony that makes it almost an art form.
  4. Football (Soccer) brings together people from a wide range of cultures, religions, countries and tribes in peaceful competition…….
Now right here he always starts to lose me. Because:
  1. Soccer’s universal popularity is, I believe, a tribute more to its economical cost per player than to any mystical attraction it may have for the more sophisticated folks living beyond our shores. I mean all you have to have to play soccer is a ball and a flat place and some bamboo lashed together in a rectangle for a goal. You don’t need pads, helmets, bats, expensive leather gloves or Michael Jordan shoes. Okay, basketball is pretty cheap if all you have to buy is a ball and somebody spent $10,000 or so to build a park with a court in it near your house.  If this is the case, I believe you will find more kids going for basketball than soccer because there is a lot more scoring and if you learn how, you look really cool stuffing the ball.
  2. Stamina? Okay, maybe. But have you ever noticed how bedraggled soccer players look after a game. They’re so winded from running nonstop for two hours, bruised from doing flip kicks and confused from too many head butts that they don’t have anything left for flirting with girls. This is one of the reasons soccer has had difficulty gaining popularity among American boys. In American sports, the main purpose (at least the original purpose) has always been to excite cheerleaders. You have to have lots of opportunities for climactic moments if you’re going to attract the attention of one of those birds. Touchdowns, home runs, the slide into home plate, the “dunk” or the three-pointer – all these give American athletes an opportunity to show off their prowess for the girls. Soccer players on the other hand – all they do is tear up and down the field sweating and kicking a ball back and forth for an hour and in all that time they may have scored just once and it happens so fast, you don’t really see it when it does. Usually someone has to nudge you to let you know there’s been a score. A score of 1 to 0 does not make for an exciting hour for a nation noted for its short attention span. Sure the heels over head flip kick and the odd header shot like Pelee used to do are pretty cool, but they don’t happen very often and these kinds of shots have been shown in recent medical studies to cause brain damage in those who execute them too frequently. The trouble with soccer is that Americans want to be able to recognize girls once the game is over. You look pretty lame coming up to a cheerleader and going, “Hey, uh, uh……uh, Barbara, no… not Barbara, but it’s something with a “B”, right?” That’s why we don’t strike the ball deliberately with our heads in original American games (other than professional wrestling and then that’s more theater than sport). In fact, it’s usually illegal to hit a ball with your head (even accidentally) unless you have a helmet and even then it’s still illegal to “header” a person or ball deliberately even though you do have a helmet on. That’s why we use bats in baseball instead of heads. Imagine if you were trying to head-butt a baseball coming at you at 96 miles an hour. Of course, that may explain the behavior of some international soccer fans. I once tried to head butt a high arcing pass into a soccer goal once. For two days I thought I was the King of Moldavia and kept sentencing my teachers to the guillotine for impertinence. It took me two months of extra credit to get my GPA back up.
  3. I have noticed from my brief attempts at soccer that there is truly a zen-like quality to it as the good doctor pointed out. You get in the zone and the game just sort of flows. That could be because, after running nonstop for the first 30 minutes, all the blood has drained out of my head, I can't feel my feet and I can’t see for the sweat in my eyes. I’m confused and afraid to kick the ball to anyone because I don’t understand what “offside” means in this stupid sport. It goes something like - if you’ve got a guy way ahead of you down the field by himself and if you kick it to him and he's positioned so that he could actually stuff it down the goalie’s throat – you can’t. I suppose the rationale is that it wouldn’t be fair to gang up on him like that. Anyway, I’m like really zoned what with the exhaustion and the confusing rules and am so "in the zone" that I could care less if anyone actually scores. I mean, it’s kind of fun to annoy the goalies by kicking the ball at them and evidently you should even kick the ball at your own goalie if you get the chance. What’s up with that? So, I’ll give him the zen-like thing, but only because I don’t exactly know what a “zen-like” quality is and if it’s anything like how I feel after playing half a soccer game, I really don’t want to know – though it would probably explain the low scoring.
  4. Soccer as the sports world’s tool for uniting all people in peace: An observation here - At the Olympics, they don’t let the soccer players play at the main stadium. They always try to keep them off somewhere else where the riots won’t be so conspicuous on TV. 
Headline Sampler
Look, despite what half the world thinks (and half the people in our own country apparently), America is a peaceful country. We sort of got it out of our system when we had the Civil War and we really haven’t been too anxious to get into another one since (except, of course, for the Spanish-American War which was more about newspaper sales than about naked aggression anyway). Sport has always been an outlet for aggression in our society anyway. But in American sports we like to take a break pretty regularly to regroup and give the other guy a chance to catch his breath. We like our sports in little dramatic acts – a “play” executed in a well-coordinated rush or a series of duels between a pitcher and powerful batters or a quick pass, dance shuffle with a half twist that ends with the ball slamming through the net. It gives us a chance to admire the footwork, handwork or strategy on display and to nudge our neighbor and say, “Would you look at that?????” We like raids and desperate battles, special forces and the “A Team”. Soccer is too much like those decades long European wars that go on and on with massed impersonal formations of nameless soldiers getting clobbered all over the place and nobody really getting much of anywhere for all the sweating they’re doing and you’re not really sure if these guys have a plan or whether they’re just making this all up as they go.

If soccer shows us how the world is “superior” as my friend more than once hinted, then I have to wonder whether the international idea of what sort of behavior is “superior” isn’t a little warped.
I’m telling you, man, those guys really need to lay off those “header” shots.

Just one man’s opinion…..

Tom King

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