NPR: Conservatives Hate Soccer Because They Hate Brown People

Writing for NPR, The Nation’s David Zirn makes what has to qualify as one of the most bizarre arguments about American ambivalence toward the World Cup that I’ve ever seen:

Among adults, the sport is also growing because people from Latin America, Africa, and the West Indies have brought their love of the beautiful game to an increasingly multicultural United States. As sports journalist Simon Kuper wrote very adroitly in his book Soccer Against the Enemy, “When we say Americans don’t play soccer we are thinking of the big white people who live in the suburbs. Tens of millions of Hispanic Americans [and other nationalities] do play, and watch and read about soccer.” In other words, Beck rejects soccer because his idealized “real America” – in all its monochromatic glory – rejects it as well. To be clear, I know a lot of folks who can’t stand soccer. It’s simply a matter of taste. But for Beck it’s a lot more than, “Gee. It’s kind of boring.” Instead it’s, “Look out whitey! Felipe Melo’s gonna get your mama!”

(…)

But maybe this isn’t just sports as avatar for their racism and imperial arrogance. Maybe their hysteria lies in something far more shallow. Maybe the real reason they lose their collective minds is simply because the USA tends to get their asses handed to them each and every World Cup. After all, as G. Gordon asked, “Whatever happened to American exceptionalism?” When it comes to the World Cup, the exceptional is found elsewhere. Could Beck, Liddy, and company just have soccer-envy? Is it possible that if the USA was favored to win the World Cup, Beck himself would be in the streets with his own solid gold vuvuzela? I feel that to ask the question is to answer it. In fact, this is as good a reason as any to hope for a mighty run by the US team. It would be high comedy to see Beck and Friends caught in a vice between their patriotic fervor and their nativist fear.

You’re kidding me, right ?

First of all, Zirn seems to think that America’s disdain for soccer is limited to people who watch Glenn Beck and listen to Gordon Liddy. As someone who does neither, let me honestly say that I have absolutely no interest in Major League Soccer, and only passing interest in the World Cup to the point that I’ll watch if there’s the promise of something interesting happening, as in 1999 when the U.S. played China in the final of the Women’s World Cup. Beyond that though, the time I spent watching Saturday’s U.S. v. England match pretty much confirmed my previous opinions of the sport — that it just isn’t interesting enough to watch on television for an hour and an half. Others may disagree, but that’s my opinion and I would say it’s probably how a fair number of Americans feel, regardless of their political ideology.

Second, the main reason that soccer hasn’t become a major sport in the United States is really pretty simple; the American sports calender is completely full. From January through December, there isn’t a month where there isn’t either an NBA, MLB, NHL, NFL, or College Football or Basketball game competing for the attention of the American sports fan. Major League Soccer, which plays from March through November, competes with all of them at one point or another. With no major television contract and game attendance that averages only about 16,000 people per game, it’s pretty clear that nobody’s paying attention.

Finally, as Daniel Drezner notes, the American attitude about soccer is closely tied to the fact that, at least for the moment, it’s not a sport that Americans succeed at:

The fact is, there are plenty of sports in the United States that occasionally capture the intermittent attention of the casual sports fan, but won’t “break through” the sports zeitgeist until and unless the United States fields a successful national team.  This is how it tends to work with the Olympic team sports, and it’s how it will work with the World Cup.  If the United States can advance far in this tournament, Americans will become more interested; if not, they’ll switch back to baseball and the NFL draft.

Which is exactly what happened in 1999 when the U.S. women beat China in Pasedena before a crowd of more than 90,000 people. It’s worth noting, though, that Women’s United Soccer Association, a professional in the wake of that game, only lasted three years and never managed to turn a profit or garner anything other than passing media attention.

So-called experts have been predicting the ascendancy of soccer as a major sport in the United States for three decades now and, despite the fact that it is clearly a popular sport for children to play, there’s no evidence that will happen anytime soon. The reason, though, has nothing to do with jingoism and everything to do with the fact that the game just doen’t appeal to the majority of American sports fans.

FILED UNDER: Entertainment, Sports,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Ugh says:

    Second, the main reason that soccer hasn’t become a major sport in the United States is really pretty simple; the American sports calender is completely full.

    I think this is pretty much right on. Plus, I think the ascendancy of baseball pretty much solely in the US in the early part of the last century, and then college and pro-football after it, kept Americans from getting into soccer, whereas the lack of those two sports pretty much anywhere else (other than baseball in Japan and to a certain extent in Latin america) let soccer flourish there. If there were no football or baseball in the U.S., then I think soccer would be just as big here as it is in most of the rest of the world (and would also be called “football”).

  2. sam says:

    Yeah, that was pretty dumb, actually, stupendously dumb. I wonder, though, if this doesn’t have the causation backwards:

    “With no major television contract and game attendance that averages only about 16,000 people per game, it’s pretty clear that nobody’s paying attention.”

    I’m just wondering if there was more network television coverage, the popularity might go up. Chicken and egg problem I know.

    As I said in a previous thread, I watched the US-England match and was surprised at how interesting I found it. What went on down in front of the goad reminded me of basketball in a way, lots of jockeying for position, etc. And, as I said, I was astonished when England scored that goal in the first minutes of the match at how fast that guy’s feet moved when he kicked the goal. Man that was quick. Hell, if we can watch golf tournaments, don’t see why we can’t get engrossed in soccer matches. As the wife says, those guys are moving all the time.

  3. Dave says:

    BOLD PREDICTIONS:

    Baseball will die out with the baby boomers (have you watched a game lately? All ads for retirement funds and erectile disfunction medication.)

    Gridiron Football will eventually die out and/or become drastically altered with Gen Y as a generation of kids raised by parents concerned by concussions and neck injuries won’t have ever played the game while young.

    The replacement? Association Football. Which we’ll still call Soccer, for legacy reasons.

  4. I’m just wondering if there was more network television coverage, the popularity might go up. Chicken and egg problem I know.

    Put then the issue becomes why television networks would put it on the air if the ratings are going to be low. It’s all about selling advertising time.

    Your golf example is good, but incomplete. The reason golf is televised isn’t because a lot of people watch so much as it’s because the people who do watch it fall within a demographic that advertisers like — just take a look at the commercials that run during The Master or US Open and you’ll see what I mean. Also, the golf tournaments themselves are heavily subsidized by advertisers as I understand it.

  5. Very bold conditions Dave considering that people were making the same prediction back when a guy named Pele game to New York to play soccer.

    We shall see I suppose, but I wouldn’t hold my breath

  6. Dave says:

    Put then the issue becomes why television networks would put it on the air if the ratings are going to be low. It’s all about selling advertising time.

    The ratings are actually pretty good: USA-England matched the Lakers-Celtics game last night (a finals clincher featuring the two premier franchises airing in primetime.) Plus, ESPN has been doing a pretty thorough job here; airing every game and going out of their way to promote the sport.

    But you’re right, it’s all about advertising, and soccer in the US is deceptively lucrative: it’s main audience is rich yuppy white folks, who have golf-fan money, and lower class hispanics, the fastest growing segment of the US population, with whom basically every company in the US is hoping to building early brand loyalty.

  7. Dave says:

    Very bold conditions Dave considering that people were making the same prediction back when a guy named Pele game to New York to play soccer.

    I don’t think people were really predicting the demise of baseball and football back in the late 70s, which is, per your points above, essential for soccer to begin to thrive here professionally.

    But everything that has happened since then points to a continuing surge in soccer interest here: growing youth participation rates (it’s now the #1 youth sport), growing hispanic population, bringing with them cultural legacy of soccer, and the decline of baseball as the national past time.

  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    I maintain perfect consistency by not caring what anyone does with any ball of any sort.

  9. LaurenceB says:

    Zirn’s actual claims seem to be:
    1. Conservatives seem to be unduly obsessed with anti-soccer fervor.
    2. Some of the rants by these conservatives seem to be rooted in nativism, or even racism.
    3. Perhaps if we were better at it, conservatives wouldn’t hate it so much.

    Doug’s response seems to be:
    1. Lots of people hate soccer, not just conservatives.
    2. I think it might be a logistical problem.
    3. Perhaps if we were better at it, conservatives wouldn’t hate it so much.

    These lists don’t seem to match up to me.

    Although I don’t buy all of what Zirn is selling, it doesn’t appear that Mataconis is actually addressing the primary issue that Zirn brings up – whether or not the rants of these right-wingers are infected by a dosage of anti-internationalism (or pro-Americanism, if you prefer). On that count, I suspect he’s pretty much correct.

    (Excercise for the reader: Take a trip to NRO today and check out Nordlinger’s rant against the metric system. Ask yourself why right-wingers consider that to be a political issue, rather than a scientific one.)

  10. Laurence,

    That’s the absurdity of Zirn’s argument — taking statements by two conservative talk show hosts, one of whom is both semi-senile and hardly popular these days — and trying to ascribe to either conservatives or Americans as a whole similar statements.

    Like I said, the American aversion to soccer is perfectly understandable and has nothing to to with nationalism, xenophobia, or racism,

  11. LaurenceB says:

    Certainly, most Americans do not have an aversion to soccer based on racism. We can agree on that. But I think if you are seriously arguing that some conservatives aversion to soccer has “nothing to do with nationalism”, then you are mistaken.

    See again, Nordlinger’s (not a senile radio talk show host) rant against soccer and the metric system. The important thing to note is that Nordlinger doesn’t even bother to argue the metric system (or soccer) on the merits. He simply opposes them because they were pushed on him by some (presumably liberal, elite) unseen power set out to “rebuke American exceptionalism”. That is absolutely the criteria he employs. Whether or not soccer is boring, or whether it can fit into the American sports calendar, or whether or not it’s athletes measure up to American standards never even enter into the picture for Nordlinger. He opposes soccer (and the metric system) simply because he sees it as not American. That is, I think, the very definition of nationalism.

  12. John Burgess says:

    I think one of the primary causes of the lack of popularity for soccer in the US is that the game just doesn’t match up to TV and its advertising imperatives. There are no regular breaks, other than halftime, in which ads can be slotted. Interrupting a game for an ad is too hazardous as any moment could be the one where a quick goal is scored.

    With HD and wide-screen TVs becoming the norm, however, scrolling or static ads, either horizontal or vertical, could encroach on screen space slightly. Those ads might not have the punch of the 30-second sit-coms or dramas that ads have become, but I suspect that factor might be outweighed by the gratitude of viewers toward smart advertisers.

    I don’t know what ESPN is charging for ads broadcast during the WC; they might even be losing money in order to gain market share. I fear too few broadcasters are willing to suspend ads during uninterruptible games, though.

  13. Laurence,

    Have you considered the fact that Nordlinger’s aversion has more to do with resistence to having some supposedly superior system imposed from above ?

    Certain groups have been trying to make the United States “go metric” since I was in grade school — which, I assure you, was some time ago — and it’s never clicked in. Are we missing something by not converting ? Honestly I can’t see that we are.

    And do you have a link for that Nordlinger piece. I just searched all of NRO and cannot find a single thing he’s written about soccer

  14. John,

    That’s a good part of it, I think. I remember during the last World Cup ABC was inserting ads onto the bottom of the screen during the game.

  15. LaurenceB says:

    Are we missing something by not converting ? Honestly I can’t see that we are.

    I think the superiority of the metric system is self-evident, but I won’t bother to argue the point with you because, as I pointed out before, whether or not it is a superior system is immaterial to the likes of Nordlinger. He just doesn’t care. The fact that it is an affront to “American exceptionalism” is reason enough for him to oppose it. Which is probably not “racism”, but certainly “nationalism”, and likely “xenophobia”.

    The link is here.

  16. That’s the blog post that had you in such a tizzy ?

    Dear lord Laurence, calm down.

    Nordlinger isn’t even close to saying what you said he did

  17. Grewgills says:

    Are we missing something by not converting ?

    Lot’s of grade school class time and then some middle school and high school class time.

  18. LaurenceB says:

    Well, that’s a disappointing response.

    Sorry about the “tizzy”.

    I’ll make sure I don’t bother you in the future.

  19. As George S. Patton said, “Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser.” I don’t recall that his comments mentioned ties, but I’d think he’s put that right up their with losing. The talking heads of soccer frequently talk of achieving a result rather than a win, which is a euphemism for a tie. This does not appeal to American sensibilities, and heaven help us if it ever does.

    There’s nothing wrong with soccer, and I do nor mean to disparage anyone who enjoys it, but don’t be surprised that most Americans are not going to share your enthusiam. ESPN is pushing hard to promote soccer right now because they need content and everything they broadcast from pro and college sources today is under threat. Some will adopt it, but not enough to overtake even hockey, IMHO.

    We’ve heard for 20 years that soccer will be the next big thing. I expect we will hear it 20 years hence as well as it will successfully maintain its status as the next big thing. A lot of kids have been playing soccer now for a long time and its popularity has remained awfully constant from high school and up. Meanwhile I have little expectation that American professional leagues will make much headway overseas. The logistics are too difficult and the cultural barriers are just too high.

    Much of the criticism of the criticism of soccer in this country seems to revolve around a desire that we should be more, for lack of a better descriptor, European. No thanks. It’s funny that the biggest advocates of diversity for the sake of diversity seem to want the rest of us to stand down when it comes to the sports we like in favor of the uniformity of what other people like. Really, it’s pure populism motivated by little more than a variant of the self-loathing that is so popular in progressive circles, but I digress.

  20. Dave says:

    Some will adopt it, but not enough to overtake even hockey, IMHO.

    World Cup ratings top Hockey ratings each time out. The USA-England match had 12 million viewers, more than double the ratings of game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals, which had 5.8 million, which happens to be the highest rated hockey game in 36 years.

    I’m starting to think a lot of people don’t really realize how popular soccer already is in this country.

  21. Doug,

    It’s not clear if we’re losing anything by not converting to the metric system, but it’s been pushed since I was in second grade, somewhere around the bicentennial. From what I understand, scientists have been using the metric systems a long time just to simplify the math and make their results translate well in other countries. That makes sense, but apart from that I don’t know what we’d gain from the transition.

    I don’t think Britain has fully converted either.

  22. Brett says:

    The ratings are actually pretty good: USA-England matched the Lakers-Celtics game last night (a finals clincher featuring the two premier franchises airing in primetime.) Plus, ESPN has been doing a pretty thorough job here; airing every game and going out of their way to promote the sport.

    But that’s for the World Cup, a huge event that takes place only every four years (like the Olympics). MLS play-off games (never mind regular season games) don’t draw anything even remotely comparable to that, which greatly inhibits MLS and more or less means that it will be a second-tier sport until the above changes (I agree that it’s a “chicken-and-egg” problem – you need television to promote the sport, but the networks won’t run the sport unless it draws good ratings).

    more than double the ratings of game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals, which had 5.8 million, which happens to be the highest rated hockey game in 36 years.

    Hockey’s a big sport (and the dominant one in Canada), but it really just does not match up most of the time with basketball and baseball, and it’s got nothing on football. It’s one of the reasons why I think of America as having “three-and-a-half” major sports instead of four.

    In the mean-time, football pre-game shows outdrew the World Cup, and the latest Superbowl game was the highest rated television program in US history (which is amazing when you consider that MASH had much, much less competition in terms of entertainment options).

    Gridiron Football will eventually die out and/or become drastically altered with Gen Y as a generation of kids raised by parents concerned by concussions and neck injuries won’t have ever played the game while young.

    Maybe, but it’s not as if the NFL has lost a lot of fans over the years – and their television ratings have continued to go up and up, even as the number of television and other alternative entertainment options have exploded in number and variety.

    Interesting that you should mention little league football. Aside from the fact that you can play football without contact (touch and flag football are both very popular “pick-up” games among kids), you can easily get into football at the high school level.

    Meanwhile, Soccer actually suffers from the stereotype at the little league level that it is basically a game played by well-off white girls.

  23. Let me know when the MLS sells out any game. Any. game.

  24. Jim says:

    Forget soccer. Lacrosse is the next big thing. Americans are learning to love it. There is more scoring , more physicality, and skill. Buh Bye Soccer.

  25. DC says:

    Let me know when the MLS sells out any game. Any. game.

    My MLS home team, the Seattle Sounders, sold out every game last season. Every. Game.

  26. Will says:

    Here are a few reasons soccer isn’t very popular in the US:

    1. Its too simple. The players wear minimal protective padding and its a very low scoring sport. Something doesn’t match up here. Compare this with: a.) football – moderate to high scores, lots of padding; b.) basketball – high scores, no padding; c.) hockey – low scores, lots of padding; and d.) baseball – low to moderate scores, minimal padding. Note that the latter two have international character, while the former two are almost exclusively American sports.
    2. We already have 4 major sports, with each sport having either professional and college leagues or major and minor leagues. There simply isn’t enough room in our collective attention span for another sport.
    3. Soccer players cry sometimes after they score a goal.
    4. The horns that all the people in the stands constantly play during the WC are incredibly annoying. Incessantly blaring those horns during a major televised event is an almost certain way to keep us from taking the sport seriously.
    5. We prefer clear, complex, and definitive rule sets that are not enforced by any single field judge/referee. In major sports that are played here, almost every foul or penalty called by a referee must be double checked with another official on the field. Soccer rules are enforced using the opinion of a single referee.
    6. Because of our more time-oriented lifestyle, we are keen on the concept of deadlines and having to meet them. Adding time to the end of a soccer match is not consistent with the way sports here are played.
    7. Soccer seems like its more of a dance than it is a battle of strength and wit. Most Americans prefer the latter in their sports.
    8. Sports in America are incorporating more technology so that competitive edges are maintained. Soccer doesn’t appear to have much room for advancement.
    9. American sports are almost always in flux (teams trading players, rules getting updated, franchises moving to new cities, etc.), while soccer seems stagnant.
    10. NASCAR is currently gaining a lot of notoriety, which might be consuming attention that would otherwise be given to another sport such as soccer (before you say “NASCAR isn’t a sport,” note that fans and spectators are what make something popular, not the players or the game).

    We don’t think we’re too good for soccer, nor do we look down on those countries that invest heavily into soccer. We simply don’t like it. Soccer doesn’t resonate with our overarching culture. Trying to blame conservatives for soccer’s inability to capture the attention of America is stupid.

    Besides, why does soccer have to be our “next major sport?” Simply because the “rest” of the world (actually about 16% of it, since only 32 teams compete in the WC, while there are 195 countries worldwide) have it as one of theirs? The choice seems totally arbitrary. Why not lacrosse or rugby? Does it really matter if the USA accepts soccer? Why is the question even being asked in the first place? All that needs to be done to enhance its popularity here is to make it more exciting. Here, try this: make the field smaller, the ball smaller and heavier, increase protective padding, add timeouts and more referees, and make the game end when its supposed to. I would watch this.

    I know plenty of people here (in America) who want teams other than the USA to win the WC. How many people in England/Germany/Slovenia/Brazil/etc. want the USA (or any team other than one from their country) to win? Probably none, and I can’t say that I blame them. Not because I don’t like America or soccer, but because I want my team to win, no matter where they or I might be from.

    Another thing that might be preventing the acceptance of soccer in America is that the sport is already highly internationalized. MLS would have to somehow turn soccer into a local sport capable of being accepted by regional populations. This would be working backwards, as all major American sports started with grassroots-type beginnings and then became popular, working outwards.

  27. Dave says:

    Besides, why does soccer have to be our “next major sport?” Simply because the “rest” of the world (actually about 16% of it, since only 32 teams compete in the WC, while there are 195 countries worldwide) have it as one of theirs?

    Just to clarify: The World Cup field is limited to 32 teams. Over 200 countries tried to qualify for a spot, only 32 teams were allowed in.

  28. Will says:

    [i]Over 200 countries tried to qualify for a spot, only 32 teams were allowed in.[/i]

    Although its not incredibly important, from where did you get the number 200? It seems a bit odd when only 195 countries exist.

  29. Dave says:

    Although its not incredibly important, from where did you get the number 200? It seems a bit odd when only 195 countries exist.

    Here’s a list of the 208 teams associated with FIFA:

    http://www.fifa.com/aboutfifa/federation/associations.html

    Not sure where you get the number 195, but keep in mind a handful of political entities not considered fully sovereign nevertheless compete nationalistically through FIFA, ie there are teams for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, rather than one United Kingdom team. There’s also a team for Pakistan, etc.

  30. Dave says:

    Didn’t mean to call out the team for Pakistan, meant to point out Palestine, not a full member of the UN but has it’s own national football team.

  31. Will says:

    Not sure where you get the number 195 […]”

    worldatlas.com, among various other sources. I was under the impression that the international assoc football scene was purely national, but, apparently, its merely regional instead. Thanks for the correction.

    This fact may actually make the sport even less appealing. To illustrate, imagine this was WC basketball rather than soccer. The Lakers and Celtics would each have independent representation and would be playing against national teams (Lakers v. North Korea would be fun to watch) as well as regional ones and each other. What about all the other US basketball teams? Switching back to soccer, why do we then have only one US soccer team? Since official geopolitical boundaries are not being adhered to, we could have 50 teams (or 66, or 438).

    Its of no consequence, I suppose. The WC certainly is a lot more exciting on Univision than it is on ESPN.

  32. Ben says:

    I guess we all just need to come to grips with our racism. ‘Cause anything that we don’t like is going to be attributed to it. Well, I don’t like to watch soccer, golf, paint drying, and that dough-head who paints landscapes on public TV. Looking at that list, it is clear that I am a racist. Now, I just need to figure out what race it is that I secretly (and unbeknown to me) am racist against.

  33. Dave says:

    worldatlas.com, among various other sources. I was under the impression that the international assoc football scene was purely national, but, apparently, its merely regional instead.

    This isn’t true, check out that list. There aren’t any “regions” there, nothing equivalent to the Lakers playing North Korea. All teams represent political entities with varying levels of international sovereignty. It’s more a question about what constitutes a “country,” and FIFA’s definition is slightly more broad than that World Atlas list.

    The United Kingdom, for instance, is a Unitary State made up of four constituent countries. World Atlas lists it as one country, whereas FIFA treats it as four. FIFA has separate teams for semi-sovereign states/protectorates like Puerto Rico, Aruba, Bermuda and Anguilla, etc., all of which are political entities operating with varying levels of autonomy (Puerto Rico is not simply a “region” of the United States). If the US wanted to field 60 teams, FIFA (or more specifically, CONCACAF) would never go for it.

    Also, there is World Cup basketball, and the Lakers and the Celtics don’t compete:

    http://www.fiba.com/
    All of this is slightly beside the point, as what I was really trying to point out is that near 100% of the World’s population was represented by a team that participated in the World Cup this year. This 32 team tournament is simply the final event of a multi year process.

  34. DC, thank you. Nice to hear.

  35. Marc says:

    To the confused will who only understand the World as the meaning of World in Baseball… Yes 200 countries and 32 end up in the world cup that’s what I call a world competition… There is way more than the 16% you stated playing soccer in the world… I love basketball and American football, cant’ find anything exciting about baseball… As in all sports the teams make the game so lousy teams on a lousy day would give you a lousy game… Open your mind a bit more… Soccer is getting bigger each year sorry for your personal analysis… There is rom for other sports to co exist and generate advertising revenues… Look at tennis… I hate the fact that watching a basketball game is also mostly watching commercials… Peace