So as of this morning, the death toll in Egypt is 74 after an incident at the most civilized of all sporting events. Apparently fans of the two teams stormed the field afterwards and commenced beating each other senseless. Then the local cops and military joined in the fun and shot a few of the more excitable fans.
You know how much I hate pointing out flaws in the logic of others, but soccer doesn't seem to me to be a very civilized sport. As to the civility of its fans, that is even less demonstrable.
Americans are not one whit less passionate about football or baseball or basketball than their stampeding soccer brethren around the world. We just simply don't feel a compelling need to trample each other to death at sporting events. The occasional redneck mother may have to cool off in the local jailhouse after a particularly exciting high school football game, but we don't get a lot of mass violence. Here's why:
- Our entire identity does not get wrapped up in a single sport. If our guys lose the football championship, there's always basketball, then baseball or hockey and even soccer for the truly desperate for something to do. If your guys lose in one sport, they may win in another so it's not that big a deal. Nobody in America expects their team to win every year and most of the leagues are small enough that your team will eventually find it's way to the World Series, Superbowl, The Final Four or the Rose Bowl. In soccer, your team has a much slimmer chance of making it to a World Cup. In addition, most countries seriously trying for a World Cup Championship are poor countries. The only way they have a chance to stick it to the rich countries is by kicking their butt in the World Cup. They really NEED to kick some rich country butt, so the fans come to these games already primed for trouble.
- Sports events are social gatherings in the United States. It's all about stuffing your face with food and hanging with four friends who are major B.S. artists. We're not likely to stampede after we've eaten 10 pounds of hot dogs, a trash can full of nachos and enough beer to dull the senses of a hippopotamus. When the game is over, we may be barely aware of it.
- Most popular American sports allow for plenty of scoring. And isn't that what you come to a game to see - scoring! In a soccer game you can easily sit through an hour and a half watching the ball roll up and down the field without ever going into the net, then run down to the concession stand for a taco a falafal or kolaches and miss the only score of the game. American sports tend to be a series of discreet contests with a climax and score at the end. Each down in footballs is a miniature contest. In every game your team wins some of these contests and loses some, but most of the time they manage to score. Same with baseball which is a series of discreet duels between the pitcher and batter supported by their teams. In basketball, someone slam dunks one every couple of minutes to help bleed off the blood lust of the fans. Even in hockey, the players oblige us with a little exchange of sticks and a trip to the penalty box to help hold our attention. My theory is that a low-scoring soccer game causes an elevation in blood pressure and increase in heart palpitation among fans and mimics the fight or flight response. Soccer fans are always running out onto the field and starting fights with one another. There's nothing to bleed off the rampant emotional energy of the fans. There's little or no communal satisfaction from scoring or successful plays at regular intervals. The only thing that stops the game for a breather are penalties and who really understands those? Everybody, as a result gets mad at the refs for one reason or another. What else is there to do? No wonder that by the end of the game the fans are ready to poke each others' eyes out.
- Most Americans don't have the attention span for soccer or for sustained carnage for that matter.. We also don't have the attention spans to plan and maintain any real level of violence over a game where the final score was 1 to 2. Such a pitifully low score seems hardly worth the effort. I was going to study to be a soccer ref one time, but decided that it wasn't worth studying that hard to ref a sport that hates it's officials so much and that I don't really like anyway. All this might change with the increasing popularity of soccer these days (I have a theory that it's the cost of equipment that may account for it. Have you priced a baseball glove lately?) Do you realize that thanks to a poor economy, we may be raising a boomer generation of kids who understand the offside rule in soccer and actually care about whether or not anybody obeys it? The next thing you know we'll have fans flinging Starbucks latte's at one another at a Seattle Sounders game.
- Most Americans don't find sporting events worth dying for. That's why we buy big screen TVs 50 pounds of chips and a gallon of onion dip and barbecue 3 or 4 buckets of chicken in preparation for watching the big game at home. We like watching sports in small groups, surrounded by people we love, but who are unlikely to trample us to death or strike us with anything more deadly than a bag of Doritos. We may die young, but it'll likely be from a heart attack rather than a sound trampling.