World Football vs American Football: Why Do We Hate Each Other?
If you've ever visited a sports website, chances are you've come across a heated discussion between fans of American football and world football.
I've been in a few. Usually, I'm the guy trying to convince everyone both sports have their merit and there really is no need to proclaim one sport to be better or more manly than the other. Yeah, that guy. That dude who's oblivious to the fact some people just like to troll.
As a European, I was born into a culture obsessed with soccer (I'm sorry fellow footy aficionado's, but it's just easier to distinguish) and raised by a dad who at one point was able to make a living out of playing the game. I was actually pretty good myself and played at a fairly high level as a kid, before I discovered the virtues of the other gender.
And then I fell in love with another sport. A game we really don't pay attention to down here on the old continent. I stopped being a midfielder and became a wide receiver/cornerback.
Did I like football more than soccer? Not really. In fact, I gave up both to become a beach bum in the end.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that I was fortunate enough to develop an affection for and a thorough understanding of both sports. I love both games with a passion.
But why am I part of a minority? I have my theories, and you'll notice in this article that most arguments people have for either sport boil down to the same thing.
Soccer Is for Little Sissy Boys
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This is probably the argument you hear most from American fans.
Soccer players dive. They don't hit each other. They're not real men.
Anyone who has ever played the game knows soccer players don't just prance around like divas, shying away from contact. The amount of pulling, shoving and elbowing going on during set pieces can be compared to what basketball players do when playing in the post.
Defenders will often try and abuse attackers as much as they can when the officials and camera's aren't looking. The Internet has tons of examples of soccer players suffering horrific injuries, often far worse than what you see on the gridiron.
The NBA is cracking down on flopping. Wide receivers will call for a flag every time there's any contact made down field. But soccer is apparently different.
Soccer is a sport that limits physical contact, unlike football or hockey. But anyone that has ever watched a game of Gaelic football or Aussie Rules can tell you both football and hockey pale in comparison to the carnage you see on those fields. No pads, no protection. All-out war.
That's soccer's answer. You wear protection. Like that has anything to do with soccer?
Football Is Dumb
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A bunch of fatties headbutting each other.
That's how soccer fans see football. You get a group of oversized men that lack the athleticism to play basketball, put them in pads and let them run into each other.
As much as I liked Blood Bowl, anyone who understands football knows this isn't the case. In a way, football is like chess. Except that sounds way too pretentious.
It's about individual matchups, and the ability to execute as a team. Disguising your intentions and working out the perfect strategy to beating your opponent. A football player needs to do a lot more thinking than a soccer player.
George Carlin gave us a pretty good description of the game when he compared it to that other über-American game, baseball. But if football is all about strategy, where's the creativity, according to John Cleese?
He argues soccer is jazz, and it's the creativity that sets it apart.
But when Robert Griffin III turns a 15-yard fumble into a 55-yard run, isn't that creative? Isn't jazz the only thing you could think of when you watched Barry Sanders play?
Why Even Call It Football?
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Ah yes, the whole handegg debate. John Cleese touched on this and probably thought he was being smart. He wasn't. That joke is so old, it spends most of its time telling war stories.
Apparently, calling world football "soccer" is offensive. Soccer is played with a round object (hence the word "ball"), and you use your foot. Ergo, football.
It's offensive in the same way my English friends get upset when I say Vegemite.
It doesn't matter.
It's language. People have different words for different things. That's not offensive, and it certainly isn't a reason to dismiss the most popular sport in the United States.
Soccer Is so Boring
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When a game ends with a score of 0-0, you can understand why someone would call it boring.
Americans, I bring you good news: a large part of Europe's female population feels the same way. How can you watch a game that last 90 minutes and ends without a single score? It's just 22 guys running around a pitch chasing a ball, only to kick it away when they get it!
And this is where we start getting to the core of the problem, because the answer to that question has been the same for the last 100 years:
"You just don't get it."
It works the other way around as well.
The quarterback lines up his troops. His protection gets into a three-point stance, the receivers line up and the back gets ready. You can feel the energy in the air as the center gets ready to snap the ball. The play starts, there's about five seconds of glorious chaos, and then everyone stops.
Players walk around a bit, they huddle up and have a little chat, the commentator talks about some meaningless statistic and we wait for the next round. Unless there's a time-out, or the two-minute warning, or someone scores or does anything out of the ordinary, let's cut to commercials.
Europe hates commercials. When I watch a movie in my native country, we get three commercial breaks at most. Some shows don't have any commercials whatsoever.
When I watch the last two minutes of a close football game, I get commercials about every twenty seconds.
What's the fun in spending most of your time watching footage of the stadium, replays and aerial coverage from a blimp?
It's Too Complicated
Try explaining the offside rule to someone who doesn't care about the sport of soccer. I dare you.
It's really not that complicated to determine whether someone is offsides or not. Past the second-to last defender when the ball is played forward, unless the player was on his own side of the field when the ball was played, or came from behind the ball, or the ball came to him from a throw in.
Okay, maybe it's a bit complicated.
Then again, if you don't know football, your brain will probably melt trying to understand the difference between defensive pass interference and defensive holding.
And if you think that's complicated, there's this thing called the tuck rule.
It's hard to appreciate a sport when you don't know the rules, but in my experience, it's not that hard to pick up rules as you go along.
I learned about rugby and cricket by watching it with a friend who knew what was going on. In both cases, it took me maybe 20 minutes to understand roughly 95 percent of the game.
Every year I invite all of my friends to come and watch the Super Bowl, and every year I end up explaining the same rules to the same people. But by the end of the game, they're all cheering and shouting at the officials for missing a hold or a PI.
Learning about a particular game isn't difficult. But you have to take the step to start watching.
The World's Game
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Is soccer the most popular sport on the planet? Well, that depends.
If you're talking about people participating, then no. More people run or ride a bike. Soccer has more viewers worldwide than any other sport on average, but that has to do with the global popularity of the European leagues. Adjust those numbers to relative popularity (average viewers), and cricket comes out on top.
(Disclaimer: in no way am I saying that to discredit the fact the footy has the biggest global following—it does. I'm just making a point. Bear with me).
The Super Bowl has a larger audience than the UEFA Champions League final, its most obvious rival from the soccer world.
All things considered, I think it's not an outrageous claim to make. Globally, football is the biggest sport.
The reason for that is its simplicity.
As a kid, I used to play with my friends in the park behind my house. We'd use sweatshirts to fabricate goal posts, and all we then needed was a ball. Even cleats weren't needed, except my mum would give me a thorough trashing over the state of my clothes when I got back home.
So, does that drive fans of American football green with envy? I think not.
Frankly, Americans couldn't give a damn about what the rest of the world is up to, and in this case I applaud them for it.
Major League Soccer is doing a good job, despite what Mr. Blatter might be thinking, but the majority of American sport fans are more than happy sticking with what they know. And whether football, basketball, baseball and hockey have any sort of following abroad really isn't all that important to them.
So Why the Hatred?
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Hatred is too powerful a word.
I'm convinced most fans of either sport are perfectly fine with the status quo, and couldn't care less about what's going on in the other part of the world. A few internet trolls might stir up a debate once in a while, but generally, we leave each other alone.
Ignorance would be a better way to describe things.
In the same way that your parents' political and religious beliefs play a big part in the ones you have yourself, your favourite sports are often the ones you were raised to love. I never asked questions when my dad took me to see a game. I see soccer players on the front page of my newspaper every day.
If I hadn't been introduced to football, I'd probably mock it as well.
We don't understand each other's game because we never tried to. And I'm not talking about just trying to watch a game. No one ever taught us.
Because that's what it all boils down to really. Your environment teaches you how to appreciate certain things in life, and how to feel about certain aspects of the world. The music you grow up with, the books you're forced to read, the endless political rants at the dinner table.
The games your dad took you to.
You might not see eye to eye with your family on a lot of things, but chances are you're just rebelling against an over-exposure of opinions you were forced to adhere to. And yes, in some cases we arrive at certain things completely on our own.
But having someone to help you along the way really makes a difference.
I taught a few of my friends to love football, and every year when the Super Bowl is over and we kick back to have a last beer, they thank me for it.
So here's my advice: just give it a try. Watch a game or two. Find yourself someone who can help you appreciate their world. Their game. Ask them questions if you have to, but make sure to offer them a beer before you do.
Who knows, you might come to love both sports as I do.
Trust me, it's worth it. For one thing, I don't have to suffer through five months of Brett Favre announcing his (un)retirement or Eden Hazard deciding where to take his game next without something else going on.