I like soccer, but it hasn’t always been that way.
As a kid, I used to hate it. Played it when I was in second grade, thought it was boring, quit, and never looked back. It was a lot of running for nothing, a lot of standing in the pouring rain, and a lot of unnecessary shots to the head. It just wasn’t my thing.
As a teenager, I got back into soccer by watching the World Cup. At first it was a nice segue to my afternoon nap, but after a while I actually began to watch the games.
Played at its highest level, soccer was compelling. As is the case with most spectator sports, I found myself rooting for one team over the other in spite of my initial inhibitions about the game. Before long, I could sit through a full 90 minutes without falling asleep.
At this point in my life, I am by no means a hardcore soccer fan. I don’t go out of my way to attend games in person, and given the choice between watching baseball, basketball, football, hockey, or soccer, I’d still choose the former four before I took the latter.
But I don’t hate the game anymore, and that’s progress. The same kind of progress has yet to be attained by millions of Americans who flat-out don’t like soccer. At all. Not one bit.
And yet this just doesn’t translate to your true-blue hardcore soccer fanatic.
Unlike diehard baseball, basketball, football, or hockey fans, soccer fans are a completely different breed. They want you to like their sport. They need you to like their sport. If you don’t like their sport, they simply do not like you.
As a fan of all of America’s major professional sports, I could care less whether you like baseball, basketball, football, hockey, or soccer at all. I just don’t give a damn. If you decide you don’t like baseball, fine. If you can’t stand football, that’s cool. If you’re anti-hockey, whatever, no big deal.
Soccer fans are different.
If you don’t match their enthusiasm for the world’s game, you simply aren’t worth their time. They don’t value your opinion, and frankly they look down upon you.
As someone who hasn’t been fully absorbed into the soccer culture, I can’t quite grasp why this holier-than-thou mentality exists. So what if someone doesn’t like your sport? Who really cares what they think anyways?
Because of this attitude, soccer has become as divisive an issue in today’s society as Jon and Kate Gosselin, the divorced parents of eight children who have been the subject of TLC’s hit show Jon and Kate Plus Eight since 2007.
You’re either on Jon’s side or Kate’s side. There is no in between. Likewise, you’re either an all-out soccer nut or you’re hardly a fan at all. No room for the occasional onlooker.
And that’s where the problem lies. Because the fanaticism of soccer is predicated on an all-or-nothing belief, there is no open-door policy for casual fans to be a part of the action. It’s like requesting a membership to Augusta National Golf Club. If you’re not part of the elite, you need not apply.
The funny thing is, hardcore soccer fans can’t stand the people that can’t stand their sport, but at the same time they have no intention of making fanatics out of the laymen.
They want you to like their sport, but they don’t want you to partake in the action unless you’re 100 percent committed, same as them. The fan culture, in a word, is stagnant.
If soccer intends to thrive in the United States, the exclusivity needs to go away and everyone must be welcomed equally. The game continues to grow in the land of the free, but that’s mainly at the youth level, rather than amongst the paying adults.
The marketability is there, the teams are in place, and the window is ajar. Now is the time to let some fresh air in.