How Soccer Lost America (Then Got It Back)

On Thursday, Ringer Films will release the latest installment of the HBO Music Box series, Listen to Kenny J. Before the film re-examined the influence of the famous saxophonist, ringer This week will be spent revisiting other cultural figures, concepts, and even sports, which also need to be reassessed.


The peculiar feature of American exceptionalism during the ’80s and ’90s was that we wanted to import everything but culture. This is one way to understand the strange anxiety and disdain with which the American sports media looked at football in the late twentieth century: it was the wrong kind of product. Our cars, clothes, and kitchen mixers could be manufactured in other countries — and they were; The US trade deficit increased nearly 30-fold over this period, from a shadow of over $19 billion in 1980 to a shadow of less than $370 billion in 2000. But our movies? our music? our sports? Try explaining BTS to an adorable American teenager in 1994 and they would have looked at you like you were throwing flowers at them. Music can come from the UK or Ireland, occasionally; we were not xenophobia. Our amazing little groups might watch a quirky British comedy or a Swedish art movie on VHS, if we could get it (mostly we couldn’t). Beyond that, though? Thank you, Pierre, but no. American men in Khaki Made in Bangladesh can, without a whisper of cognitive dissonance, drive their German cars to Chinese radio consoles, where they spend driving time deriding soccer as a foreign, and global threat to American power — a “game for those in hats,” as Ann Coulter once said:

That’s one way to think of American disdain (which is now mostly past, thank God) over the world’s most popular game. Another way to reverse the equation. Culture, during those years, was what we wanted issue. The invisible aliens who fill the shelves of Kmarts with running shoes and waffle irons were supposed to love and buy American cultural products. And they often did! Look at the international box office, which exploded during the late 20th century. best movie of 1980, Empire strikes, achieved 54 percent of its total from the domestic market; best movie of 1997, Titanic, got nearly 70 percent of its total from the international market. In 1997, for the first time, Hollywood made more money outside the United States than it did inside the United States. Call it cultural imperialism if you like; The sun never set over us. We were winning the Cold War, buying cheap CD players, and spreading Forrest Gump (International box office share: 51 percent) worldwide.

Posted, except for football scenes. Sport was the biggest omission from America’s cultural sphere of influence. These days, with the NBA returning to state television in China, with David Beckham running a Miami soccer club from stadium benches in Los Angeles, it can be hard to remember how completely isolated American sports used to be from the rest of the world. The astonishing popularity of football in most parts of the world meant that our sport struggled to gain attention beyond our borders. People who can name the cast friends Can’t name a member of the Dallas Cowboys team. Everyone, everywhere knew who Michael Jordan was, but the same way everyone in Ohio knew Pele in 1977: Most of them weren’t from watching his games. America set the agenda for the world in music, film, and fashion, but not the agenda in big professional sports. Football was so big. He won’t budge us.

In the truest sense, then, world football was where America faced the horizon of its influence. It is disconcerting, if you are the king, to see the mountain where your kingdom ends; I think that’s how football feels for many Americans. After this line you do not call the picks. You may have noticed that nationalism has a way of translating male insecurity into aggression. You may have noticed that sports tend to be the place where male insecurity goes to protect and reassure himself. For a certain kind of American guy—say, the kind who desperately wants the attention of a room full of eighth grade boys by barking “Okay, girls, listen up”; The kind that drove nearly all sports coverage before the internet, and still drives perhaps two-thirds of it – it has become necessary to define football as another vile game. Football must not only be un-American, it must be un-American in ways that revealed the inherent superiority of Americans, the unreliability and femininity, the lightness of the hat-wearing nations and the luxury.

It is almost impossible to overstate what Pesaro’s reading of the sport was at a time when football hooligans were sucking on each other’s eyeballs, right-wing populist groups were actively recruiting in English football stadiums, and middle-class Europeans wanted nothing. To do a game they saw as violent and unrivaled, pee-filled balloons routinely littered the roving fans, and Roy Keane was around. For that matter, soccer was actually a very popular sport in America – bigger than the NFL in the 1920s, though nowhere near as college football – and millions of American kids played it every weekend. But accuracy, historicality, and consistency in reading mattered less than the way it made Joe Colts Van feel. Make him feel good! And so, for many years, soccer in the United States became the subject of one of the most extensive cultural misunderstandings ever since the first Christian in Rome turned to the man next to him and said, “You know, I’ve always wanted to see the Colosseum from the inside.”

Do you remember this era? It wasn’t that long ago. I think it ended around 2006, although for a long time after that, and to this day, anti-football sentiment will sometimes permeate into the more complex corners of the discourse. At some point, those millions of kids playing soccer started growing up, and MLS convinced people that it wasn’t going away, degree of fever It made it safe for the wealthy to admire Arsenal, and improved connectivity technology also made it easier to watch international matches. The sport is starting to look young and cool rather than exotic and coded socialism. (Socialism is also starting to look young and cool.) It became possible to support both the troops and Manchester United. The world has turned, and if your childhood relatives keep complaining about Neymar, you can take it a step further, knowing that millions of die-hard football fans, on several continents, have been complaining about Neymar at all times.

Things have improved. But before then? Oh my goodness, this bullshit we put up with. I’m speaking as a fan also as someone who used to go to a car repair place playing Jim Rome in the waiting room. They were good, honest mechanics, and I think they lost the remote. “Anyway, it was a massacre. Every sports columnist in America used to get up twice a year and phone into a lazy, anti-soccer debate, and the main takeaways were always ‘I like to leave work at 2:30.’ He was probably the most perceptive, and thus the most Stupidly, it is written by the distinguished Sports Illustrated Writer Frank Deford, in 2001. Deford notes – perceptively! The problem of football in America has to do with the reluctance of Americans to import culture. But instead of thinking about the reasons for this closed-mindedness, Deford celebrates it: “What we Americans do is pass our things on to other vulnerable people.” Wonderful sentence. He writes that Americans love scoring, thus:

The reason we don’t care about football is because it’s not American. It’s someone else’s way of life. So most American children give up interest in the game when they realize that it is incompatible with what they find out about Americanism. Same with immigrants and their children – once they discover more engaging toys that reflect American spirit and values. It’s really very simple why most of us antisocial Americans forever reject football.

Please imagine reading a copy of this every three months for 20 years; You now have an idea of ​​what it used to be like to be American and you suspect that the most popular game on the planet might be good – you know.

It gets worse. Here is the line that Boston Globe Columnist Dan Chaugnessy — who has written and rewrote the same anti-football column for 25 years — purposely posted in 1994, the year the United States hosted the World Cup:

How good is any game when you can’t use your hands? Hands are what separate us from the animal kingdom.

the hands. Is what separates us. from the animal kingdom. I cannot tell you how many writers made this argument during the Reagan-Bush-Clinton years. In the thousands. My friends, I appeal to you. This is a game that many billions of people think is fun and exciting. Don’t be tempted to recognize them. Respect the essential difference between you and the giraffe.

This 2002 sportswriter Allen Barra:

to me [soccer nerds], football is “democratic” because it eliminates the fastest and strongest and takes from the average level of European males its physical standard. In other words, the average height and weight of a soccer nerd.

This is correct. I enjoy football because it demands its physical standard the average European man. There were various physical criteria she could have taken – faster and more robust ones – but they required a 5-foot-9 Latvian beachgoer named Ivo. I met him once at FIFA headquarters. It was a little chilly on the speedo, but we had a nice chat about how we are exactly the same height and weight.

Anyway, Allen Barra loves football now.

This is the critic C. Rome, 17,000 BC:

My son does not play football. I’ll give him snowboarding boots and a sparkling embroidered blouse before I give him a soccer ball.

Jim Roma also loves football now.

Here is Hank Hill:

Some of these rants, to be fair to their writers, belong to an almost timid tradition, which my colleague Brian Curtis, called in a 2018 column about the disappearance of the American football dwarf, which he calls “The Original Comic Doctrine.” Some of them don’t belong in any comic tradition, at least not on purpose, and are meant to be taken seriously. It’s easy to tell the difference. Serious people are the funniest. Anyway, this constant drop of anxiety conveyed anxiety about American manhood, American national prestige, and (uh) the American hand that has defined the popular concept of the sport for years. A large portion of the national sports media have looked at football fans as: Oh, that’s something you enjoy; I’m going to scream “Freedom Fries” as loud as I can watch it.

Football is still not very popular in America. What has changed is something more subtle: it now seems more embarrassing to say these things than to be attacked by people who say it. I mean, maybe most little boys would love a pair of snowboard boots and an embroidered blouse? I’m sure this fact still makes a lot of parents nervous, but more and more people can see that their kids aren’t nervous. The idea of ​​a game that embodies or undermines core American values ​​seems somewhat absurd in the era of Shohei Ohtani in California and Christian Pulisic in Stamford Bridge. And in an era when the winner of Best Picture of 2020 and half of the biggest shows on Netflix come from abroad, a loud refusal to engage with the world isn’t quite the rhetorical knockout it once was.

I still sometimes think that football in America can use a cultural reassessment. Have we totally figured out our fan style – one that isn’t copied from the Premier League or the NFL? Have we figured out how to balance our interest in building the local game with our interest in watching the best players and teams in the world, or discover how these interests relate to the future of our national teams? Not quite, I think. However, it is infinitely better than it was before. I watch football every weekend, and they let me write this column by hand.

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