The Goalie's Anxiety at the Political Kick


As the 2014 FIFA World Cup winds down to its final few games, let’s reflect on what we’ve learned along the way. The most surprising thing, other than the fact that none of the stadia collapsed, is how politicized supporting the sport has become.

The ideologically extreme MSNBC mouthpiece Chris Hayes mocked non fans for being wedded to antiquated ideas. “The aversion that some hold in joining the world to embracing soccer is often weirdly tied to American Exceptionalism,” Hayes said. “And once again, this year, a few anti-soccer trolls reared their ugly heads. But they really don’t matter . . . Even the president of the United States caught the game today. . . And while we didn’t win, that’s ultimately alright because part of embracing a truly worldwide competition is accepting the fact the U.S. cannot simply assert its dominance.”

So, if you’re one of the cool kids you like soccer just as much as you like transgendered urinals. Another ideological brownshirt, Peter Beinart, observed on CNN that soccer fans are generally younger,  more liberal, more tolerant of others and “are far less likely than older American to say that America’s culture is superior or to say that America is the greatest country in the world.” He thinks that’s a plus.

Beinart explains, “if you look at the states where soccer is most popular, they’re overwhelmingly blue states, and the states where soccer is least popular are red states. The only difference between the soccer coalition and the Obama coalition is that African-Americans are right now are not such big soccer fans and of course important parts of the Obama coalition . . . So you can see the Obama coalition as essentially soccer plus basketball.  The Republican coalition is essentially baseball plus golf plus NASCAR.”

Which begs the question, what stands out more, Beinart’s incoherence or his ineffable silliness? Of course, the left doesn’t have a monopoly on silliness. Not when it comes to futbol.  Ann Coulter spewed her own version of dementia, declaring soccer to be beneath American’s contempt because “It’s foreign.” Like the metric system, it is from “Europe,” and therefore verboten. Even worse, it’s a game played by sissies, and liberals. “Liberal moms like soccer because it’s a sport in which athletic talent finds so little expression that girls can play with boys,” Coulter fulminates. “ No serious sport is co-ed, even at the kindergarten level.”

Not to be outdone, the other day Bernard Goldberg passed his judgment in a piece on National Review Online (which effectively transformed a once-respectable forum of ideas into the intellectual version of “The National Enquirer.”). Soccer, he declared, is for losers. “It’s not just because it’s so dull that I don’t like soccer. Another reason I don’t like it is because of the Americans who do like it. Most of these sports fans — a term I use with no regard for either word, “sports” or “fans” — wouldn’t know a fumble from a first down, a hit-and-run from a double play. But every four years they show up at bars and go wild when the American team ties the Tunisians zero-zero, or nil-nil, as they call it.”

The debate over soccer seems like the last nail in the political coffin which is contemporary American society. Why can’t someone simply enjoy a good match without feeling morally superior? Conversely, can’t I choose not to follow the sport, or even actively mock it without attacking true soccer fans? (True fans, by the way, follow the sport year-round, not just every four years–it’s like the Olympics. We can enjoy the passion and drama of Olympic competition without describing ourselves as huge track and field, or luge fans).

An English friend once described soccer as a gentlemanly game play by thugs, as opposed to rugby, which is a thuggish game played by gentlemen. Another English friend refers to the sport as “kiss ball,” yet he lives and dies with the fate of his National Team. Former British Prime Minister Margaret  Thatcher is reputed to have soothed her shattered nation following an unlikely loss to the German National Team by noting that “England has twice defeated German at their national game.”

So there’s a lot of tradition and history to soccer. Ironically, on a continent given to scorning nationalism, Europeans exult in the fortunes of their National Teams. An Englishman who will look down his nose at American patriotism will willingly and reflexively bite the nose off a Frenchman’s face in the unlikely event of a froggish goal.

To be honest, I dislike soccer because it is mired in the past.  It was yet another English friend who expressed his envy for the way Americans constantly tinker with our sports. Baseball, hockey, football and basketball are constantly evolving to accommodate changes in equipment and improvements in diet, training and performance.

Consider baseball. Over the years the pitching mound has gotten lower and the strike zone has effectively been cut in half. Every change has been made to improve the batter’s chances of hitting the ball. If those changes hadn’t been made, most baseball games would finish one-nil after 18 innings, contested before as many as three dozen people.

Baseball has changed with the times. Soccer hasn’t. Which is why players fall to the ground and writhe in agony, until they realize they won’t be rewarded with either a penalty kick or the issuance of a yellow or red card. The reason they do this is not, despite what Coulter might say, because they are “sissies,” but because about the only way to score in modern soccer (we’ll leave Germany-Brazil out of this discussion) is by penalty kick or a man advantage.

Which means most games come down to which side is best able to game the system, or to phantom penalties called or legitimate ones ignored. Soccer is too much in the hands of the officials, and not enough on the feet of the players. Which is why I don’t like it. It’s ironic when you think of it. According to trendy-leftie elites, by definition I don’t like soccer because I am a conservative, while in fact, I don’t like soccer because it hasn’t changed. Advocating change is not the purview of the right, which means, I don’t like soccer because it is too conservative for me.