At sports bars and gyms and generally anywhere Americans congregated Sunday, people celebrated soccer like it was the national sport. Until last week, I doubt if hardly anyone knew a Women’s World Cup even existed, let alone any player’s name, from any country. But as with the Olympics, if any American is in the running for the gold for any sport, be it badminton, fast walking or synchronized swimming, people who may have badmouthed the sport just the day previous keep their eyes glued to the TV. As a nation, we are ardent fans of [fill in the blank], provided there’s a medal involved.
The thrill of the soccer pitch thrilled like never before, literally. Every shot on goal elicited gasps, clapping, hoping against hope, you name it, by yes, the very same people who say soccer isn’t a real sport like American football. Politics may split America into roughly equal halves, but when it comes to winning something, the country bands together as one, jingoistic as jingo can be.
Admittedly, that was somewhat of a rant. But as everyone loves bitching and whining, I’ll continue in a related vein.
The majority of Americans have always denigrated soccer and deemed it downright wimpy when compared to American football, even if all evidence points to the contrary. Slide tackles, snapped legs, knees and ankles, cleat studs raked across faces, all without the full body armor of American football, these are but details. And why does it matter? Extreme physicality and the threat of real bodily harm exist in both sports. I’ve heard people disdain baseball for being boring but never for being less violent than football. And what of basketball, the pushing and the pulling in abundance, but if it gets too rough you can bet the man in the black-and-white stripes will blow his trusty whistle.
In his How Soccer Explains the World, Franklin Foer theorizes that although American upper middle-class parents champion soccer for kids at early ages for confidence building and team play, it’s only as a sports placeholder. Parents cleave to the “let’s not keep score, everyone wins” kindergarten mantra until the child (or boy, really) can at last strap on the body armor and do battle on the football field. Much of the American football hegemony stems from inertia (father’s father taught by his father, and now onto the son), as well as class (in non-Latino communities, few inner-city kids are similarly encouraged to play at a young age). Soccer gets tagged as a sort of yuppie’s game, which is deeply ironic in a global perspective. Soccer is one of the few sports that anyone of any income bracket (and really, of any size) can play. Ask Maradona, for example.