June 30, 1994
Why Americans Will Never Love Soccer
By Jeff Bliss
DESPITE THE MEDIA-DRIVEN FAUX EXCITEMENT, we Americans will never go crazy about the game of soccer. And without sounding too much like Joe McCarthy, I have to say soccer is un-American.
Let me explain. Soccer is not about anything Americans appreciate. The very fact that it's called football elsewhere enrages enough red meat gridiron fans to keep soccer from ever being popular here.
First, real football players must weigh as much as an Army tank and wear twice as much protective armor. Soccer players run around in little more than their underwear. Americans like equipment: first-baseman's mitts, helmets, and menacing face masks. Soccer has precious little of this.
Second, we didn't invent the game...so that means it can't be all that great. OK, you think you're smart because you know about baseball's ties to cricket and American football's ties to rugby. The truth is we took these games and improved them. Soccer, on the other hand, belongs to the world (like the metric system).
Suggestions from the United States to modify soccer, such as allowing eye gouging and body slams, have been largely ignored. If it ain't ours and if it can't hurt you, we don't want it. (Suggestions to return the game to its pre-Columbian roots, with the losing team facing execution, have also been dismissed.)
Third, and most importantly, sports symbolize a people. As an example, let us compare baseball and soccer. Soccer is the perfect metaphor for the rest of the world. Baseball, our national pastime, is the story of individuals banding together for a common goal. Everyone has the same chance to be a hero or a goat, and every player has a specialized skill used for the good of the team. Additional examples, like baseball statistics, go on ad nauseam. Believe me.
Soccer, on the other hand, is about a bunch of guys who wander around a field chasing a ball. It's a game of turnovers: I've got the ball. No, now you've got the ball. No, I have the ball. No, you have the ball. No, he has the ball. . . well, you get the idea. We don't like that in a sport or anything else in our lives. We want stability. Also, there's "diving" (falling to the turf and pretending to be grievously fouled). Actually, there's a lot of diving. A lot. As soon as their team gains an advantage, the "injured" players always make a speedy recovery (the quickness rivals any faith healer's powers).
One more thing. Soccer, played on a field only slightly smaller than the continent of Asia, is ridiculously low-scoring and tie games are not unusual. We like scoring. We like it so much, we made touchdowns worth six points. A total of six points in a soccer game is usually regarded as scandalous (no one ever worries about a juiced-up ball in soccer). I know what I'm talking about. During my short-lived career as a high school and college soccer player, I scored a total of one goal -- just a few short of what most pro players score during their entire careers. OK, so it was against my own team . . .
And please don't mention youth soccer. I acknowledge its popularity -- I played it. But the secret is youth soccer is a conspiracy of parents across the nation: get those youngsters out there running their heads off for an hour or more on Saturday mornings and they're less likely to raise hell around the house the rest of the weekend. Why do you think I made my kids play?
All kidding aside, soccer is a great game.
It's just not our game.
(Note: I wrote this piece when the U.S. hosted the World Cup in 1994. A few minor alterations have been made.)