Soccer Snobbery, Sexism Hurting the American Game

John HowellAnalyst IMay 26, 2009

CARSON, CA - DECEMBER 8:  Forward Mia Hamm #9 of the USA stands on the field during the 'Fan Celebration Tour' finale against Mexico on December 8, 2004 at The Home Depot Center in Carson, California.  Hamm would retire from the national team at the end of the match. The USA beat Mexico 5-0.   (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

An article I posted on B/R yesterday, "Would Americanizing Soccer Ensure Success for MLS and WPS?" opened a can of worms that requires some additional discussion.

The underlying assumption behind the article was that soccer isn't as successful as other pro sports in North America because of cultural nuances.

Some suggestions offered in that article that might cosmetically Americanize the game without fundamentally altering the game included counting down the time by halves, allowing additional substitutions and re-entry to the game, giving the uniforms a more American look (with prominent team logos rather than commercial sponsor logos) and more liberal use of PK's to break ties and to add drama to the game.  

As expected, the article drew a tremendous amount of comment from soccer purists who exclaimed that any such tweaks would ruin the game and ruin any credibility the American game has, and would not attract the typical American sports fan anyway.

The critics may have been right.

I have no dog in this fight. I enjoy soccer as it is. If I thought these changes would hurt soccer in America, I'd oppose it.

On the other hand, if I thought some of the above referenced tweaks would make the game more marketable in North America, I'd be all for it.

What I found more troubling in the comments the article received was a snobbery and sexism that are detrimental to the growth and development of soccer in the USS and Canada.

Snobbery

Many of the comments implied or stated a bias against American soccer, not only in the present tense, but the future and eternal tense.

It seemed that several were saying that American soccer is fatally flawed, that America doesn't deserve quality soccer, and the typical American sports fan is too inherently crude to ever appreciate real soccer.

The same critics would also assert that anyone with true soccer talent should not waste their time in MLS, but go straight to Europe or South America. 

Some of these comments reflected something between apathy and disdain directed at MLS and similar sentiments directed at our national teams.

I can understand that the love of the game causes some purists to have contempt for any bastardization of the game. I get that.

I can also accept that the love of the game might require purists to watch international soccer to quench their thirst for the real thing.

On the other hand, the love of the game should also motivate those of us whose roots are firmly planted in North America, especially the U.S., to support and advocate on behalf of our professional leagues and national teams here at home. 

After all,the fact that minor league hockey, basketball, or baseball is not up to the same level of play as the Majors doesn't mean local fans cannot and do not endorse their local minor league teams wholeheartedly. 

The fact that basketball is at its best in the United States doesn't prevent European or Chinese fans from enjoying and supporting their domestic leagues and teams.

If we truly want to do everything we can to build and promote the highest level of play in American soccer, we might need to be open to cosmetic enhancements that will make the game more popular, since popularity translates into attenance and TV viewership, which in turn translates into dollars, which in turn makes it possible for us to have our share of the world's best talent playing for American teams, and makes it more likely that an increasing proportion of that talent will be home grown.

Sexism

The other dynamic that was evident in the numerous responses to the article in refrence was that despite the mention of WPS with MLS in the article title, and despite the equal emphasis on WPS in the article, none of the comments referenced WPS at all. All of them referenced MLS exclusively.

Judging from the comments on the "Americanizing" article, it's as if WPS doesn't exist.

This is indeed troubling, because in the same sense that European "football" is the class of the sport in the world for men, American soccer is the class of the sport in the world for women.

Mia Hamm (above) dominated women's soccer at her peak, at least as much as Beckham dominated the men's game at his peak.

The US WNT has dominated soccer for years, in the same way that Germany, Holland or France, along with Brazil and Argentina, has dominated on the men's side.

So, why are our American soccer snobs not standing up for the aspect of U.S. Soccer that is up to par?

The point is, that the love of soccer should translate into supporting the development of the game in one's home country and one's hometown. 

And because one of our domestic professional leagues already is world class, it should translate into celebrating and supporting that side of the game, not only for the love of the game, but for the love of those key American values of justice and equality.

More than just celebrating the world's best women's program, we will be celebrating and advancing opportunities for female professionals to achieve parity with males. That's one sense in which that which is soccer and that which is American are one in the same.