"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." -- Theodore Roosevelt


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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Soccer: A Socialist Sport? Give Me a Break...

Oddly, certain elements of the American Right have suddenly begun leveling attacks against soccer during the World Cup. I'm not talking about conservative pundits saying they find the sport boring (that's certainly their prerogative... I personally find college baseball tediously unwatchable), or the constant horn blaring annoying. Soccer's a game. Take it or leave it. Some people don't like tennis, or hockey, or (God forbid) American football, or baseball, or bowling, or water polo. So what? It's a matter of taste, so who cares?

No, I'm not talking about anything that simple. I'm talking about straight up attacks on the sport, of which C. Edmund Wright's American Thinker article "Soccer: The Perfect Socialist Sport" is an example. To be perfectly up front and fair, I suppose I should state that I am a soccer a fan. I played the sport for seven years, coached it for four, and continue to watch it now. Back in the day when no English-language American channels would show soccer games, I would watch the Mexican leagues on the Spanish-language stations and still occasionally do so now. With that disclaimer in place, I have to say that, as a conservative, I found the logical stretches and paranoid contentions in Wright's article to be utterly embarrassing.

I thought I might address Wright's idiocy one selected paragraph at a time.

From Wright's article:

"The world's most popular sport? Puh-leeze. This is like saying that dirt is more popular than gold simply because there is more of it. Last time I checked, soccer was very popular where starvation, archery, and badminton were the alternative activities. Where soccer has to compete with the NFL, college football, and basketball -- not to mention WWE, the X Games, cheerleading contests, and cage-fighting -- not so much."

Hmm. I have to admit that it's a brave decision for a writer to begin his argument by first fully displaying a total lack of understanding about the subject matter-- in this case other cultures' sporting tastes. It's brave, but probably just about the stupidest strategy I've ever seen.

Badminton is a particularly big in China and other nations that have significant Chinese populations such as Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, etc. and soccer is passably popular there; archery is particularly big in South Korea another nation that does indeed like soccer, but is hardly a country unexposed to American sports. While China and South Korea are no slouches in the world of soccer, both are hardly nations popularly known for their rabid soccer zeal. Indeed, Wright's assertion that soccer is only popular in poor, culturally deprived, third-world nations ("soccer was very popular where starvation, archery, and badminton were the alternative activities"-- at attempt at pithiness, I suppose) doesn't stand up under even the most casual scrutiny. A short list of countries well known for their love (often obsession) of the game disproves his claim immediately. Germany, Great Britain, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands... Is this a list of countries where the alternative to soccer is "starvation, archery, and badminton?" Puh-leeze yourself, Wright...

Come to think of it, in which country does soccer compete with "the NFL, college football, and basketball -- not to mention WWE, the X Games, cheerleading contests, and cage-fighting?" Oh, right... America. So the basis of Wright's opening argument is that since soccer is not terribly popular in the USA (despite the fact that most major colleges field a men's and women's team and several professional soccer leagues currently exist in the US) that soccer is a social equivalent to dirt. Good argument there... That's some a top-notch intellect on display I see...

But Wright seems determined to contribute mightily to the idea that American conservatives are an ugly, ignorant, and paranoid rabble with his next point:

"At its heart, soccer is the perfect socialist sport. That's why it will never catch on among Americans the way football or basketball has -- regardless of how hard ESPN or ESPN Deportes tries to force feed it to us. Soccer is a redistributive dreamer's delight, with most of the potential risk-reward strategy of the sport removed by rule. It is a self-esteem cornucopia, where a blistering rout of, say, 2-0 seems so close in the score book. No one's feelings get hurt at 2-0. And on and on the socialist feel goes."

Does Wright not understand how idiotic this sounds? So ESPN and ESPN Deportes is forcing soccer upon us as a part of socialist propaganda? It is so farcical that I really wonder if I should even reply to this lunacy... but I'll go ahead and do so.

Exactly when, outside of the World Cup, has ESPN ever forced soccer upon us? As I said before, I used to watch soccer on the local Spanish language television stations in L.A. because there was no soccer to be seen elsewhere. This was when ESPN was running the Gaelic games like hurling and that hand ball game that's basically hurling with a volleyball and without the stick. Today, Fox Sports has a channel devoted to soccer (FSC the Fox Soccer Channel) and ESPN has no equivalent that I know of (it goes without saying that ESPN Deportes doesn't count, since soccer is incredibly popular in Mexico and Latin American countries, so why on earth would it make any business sense to not run soccer?). According by Wright's own logic, shouldn't Fox be the network that stands accused of intentionally force feeding us socialist propaganda through the sport of soccer? Strangely, Wright fails to mention Fox... I wonder why?

But what about Wright's assertion that soccer is a "redistributive dreamer's delight?" Surely Wright should back up such an accusation by citing clear evidence from of a history of soccer that shows a socialist influence. Was the sport started by Lenin to demonstrate the futility of individual effort or some such thing? Did Marx invent the game to promote his idea of tyrannical economic redistribution?

Well, Wright provides no historical evidence of this. Whether this is due to ignorance, laziness, or an intentional omission matters little. The original rules of the game which were officially drawn up in 1863 and credited to Ebenezer Cobb Moreley can be found here. Little seems to be known about E.C. Morley. The upshot of the limited information about his life can be found here, and can pretty much be summarized by saying: "Ebenezer Cobb Morley was born in Hull in 1831. He moved to London where he worked as a solicitor. He was a keen sportsman and established Barnes Football Club in 1858." [...] "Morley also established the Barnes and Mortlake Regatta [is rowing another socialist sport?] for which he was also secretary (1862-80). He served on the Surrey County Council for Barnes (1903-19) and was a Justice of the Peace. Ebenezer Cobb Morley died in 1924."

The upshot of how soccer (football in this case) came to be founded is briefly summarized. "Morley became captain of the club [Barnes Football Club] and in 1863 he wrote a letter to Bell's Life newspaper proposing a governing body for football. This letter resulted in a meeting taking place at the Freeman's Tavern in London in October, 1863. The clubs represented at the meeting included Barnes, Blackheath, Perceval House, Kensington School, the War Office, Crystal Palace, Forest (later known as the Wanderers), the Crusaders and No Names of Kilburn. Charterhouse also sent an observer to the meeting.

"The Football Association was established at this meeting. The aim of the FA was to establish a single unifying code for football. As Percy Young, has pointed out, that the FA was a group of men from the upper echelons of British society: 'Men of prejudice, seeing themselves as patricians, heirs to the doctrine of leadership and so law-givers by at least semi-divine right.'"

I like that last line... I mean, that meeting sounds like a real socialist/red nightmare there, doesn't it?

A savvy skeptic might say that while there's no evidence of soccer's alleged socialist leanings from its inception, what about now under the modern rules? I mean the rules have changed greatly since 1863, right? Okay then. Let's look at the evidence as provided by Wright.

Let's first look at the "evidence" from the paragraph I quoted above. Let's see... Soccer has "most of the potential risk-reward strategy of the sport removed by rule." I'm not sure what he means there. I mean, people do win games and tournaments. Is Wright speaking strategically? I have no idea... so let's move on and maybe Wright will explain later.

Let's see, Wright claims that soccer "is a self-esteem cornucopia, where a blistering rout of, say, 2-0 seems so close in the score book. No one's feelings get hurt at 2-0. And on and on the socialist feel goes." Firstly, I didn't know that saving peoples feelings from being hurt was a tenet of socialism. Silly me. I thought socialism was an economic theory with its roots in Marx and Hegel. When will I ever learn-- or did Marx write about saving people's feelings in between predicting/promising death to the bourgeoisie? Secondly, how can Wright possibly say that no one's feelings get hurt when a team loses? I guess the various idiotic incidents of soccer violence that occurs in other countries-- such as fan deaths soccer goalies being threatened, physically assaulted, and sometimes killed for own goals by rabid fans (recent examples here here here-- gathered by a single google search) is due to this feel good mentality of this "self-esteem cornucopia" that Wright describes. Such incidents happen because... no one's feelings got hurt by a loss or something. Maybe it was the lack of competitive spirit that led to these violent happenings...

Wright's obvious lack of understanding of soccer is demonstrated in other ways. First of all a 2-0 score is not "a blistering rout" as Wright suggests. Sure, there's a nice cushion provided by that second goal lead, but this cushion is probably less stable than an equivalent score of 14-0 in American football. And would a 14-0 score between the Cowboys and Steelers be considered a blistering rout? Not by a long shot. But let us mistakenly assume for a moment that 2-0 is a rout. Well, then those of us familiar with the sport would recognize it as such, no matter what it looks like in a score book. No matter the sport, the only time a rout doesn't look like a rout is when people are unfamiliar with the sport. A loss by five seconds in an Olympic level 100 meter dash sure sounds close, doesn't it? After all, it's only five itty-bitty seconds in a record book. That's not a very long at all in games such as baseball. Is the 100m dash, therefore, a sport designed to promote non-competitiveness and socialism?

Wright goes on:

"Consider other ways in which it is the quintessential socialist sport:

"Soccer is biggest where the 'national teams' are the main sports focus of a nation. Hey, you can't get much more socialist than that. And everyone on every street and in every town pulls for the same team. Wow. Isn't that exciting? Whom do you pull for? Oh yeah, the national team."

Huh. Perhaps Wright should explain exactly when national pride and national identity became a hallmark of socialism? So, I guess the 1980 US Hockey team's victory, "The Miracle on Ice," was actually a great moment in socialist history. Who knew? I guess every moment that we identify ourselves as Americans and root for our countrymen during an Olympic sport, we've actually turned socialist. Well, I guess I'll just have to start rooting against Americans from now on. You suck Nastia Liukin, Kerri Strug, and The Dream Team! I suppose Wright believes that now I should feel like a real conservative...

Oh, and never mind the fact that most countries that enjoys soccer have various forms of profesional soccer leagues within their borders. Soccer is hardly a sport played merely by national teams.

And now the biggest "what in the hell is Wright talking about?" moment:

"And let's not forget the off-sides rule. Without getting buried in minutiae, suffice it to say that off-sides in soccer is like making the bomb illegal in football or the fast break illegal in basketball. This is a socialist sport. We can't be having any risk-reward equations here. You see, in soccer, it's not fair that you might take a chance to weaken your defense in order to spring a man deep downfield behind the defense. That would be unfair in a free-market, venture-capital-type way. No, no, no! You must let the defense be behind you. You cannot beat them downfield until you have the ball. That would be unfair and, no doubt, mean-spirited.

"So ingrained is this into the soccer psyche that many of the world's best defenses employ what they call 'the off-sides trap.' In other words, they use the socialist rules to the hilt. Here, a defenseman gets beaten downfield on purpose to get a call against his opponent.

"It's a lot like using high tax rates and the IRS to keep everyone's financial strata the same."

Now I've never been a fan of people who use sports as a sober metaphor for life, and I snicker every time at FIFA's advertising blitz shouting that soccer can change the world. But Wright's analogy wins the gold medal for stupidity.

Wright is saying that soccer's concept of off-sides is what?! It's amusing that Wright doesn't want to get "buried in minutiae" when talking about the concept of off-sides. Here's a quickie explanation of what off-sides in soccer is: at the time the ball is kicked to the offensive player, the receiving player must have two opposing players between him and the goal (the goalie would count as one). Why that's just like the IRS taking all your money, or a class struggle... or something.

Comparing apples and oranges is always a fool's game as Wright amply demonstrates. Still it is even more foolish, not sufficient, for Wright to say that the off-sides rule is "like making the bomb illegal in football." How on earth is the bomb in football anything like being off-sides in soccer? Seriously. It would be more appropriate to say that the off-sides rule is like making American football teams line up on sides before a play begins. How about if we allow wide receivers to just stand in the other team's end zone at all times and receive passes? Would that be sufficiently non-socialist for Wright? Heck, why is holding illeagal in football? Why are there rules to restrict the individual player at all? While we're at it, how about if we just allow the defensive linemen to clobber the quarterback whenever-- before the play, after the play, when the QB is walking onto the field... I mean sure it wouldn't be fair, but I guess Wright contends that fairness is an exclusively socialist virtue (along with national pride apparently).

Once again we are subjected to Wright's "risk-reward" concept, but at least this time he offers an explanation of it within soccer, although his example demonstrates a complete ignorance of the game. "This is a socialist sport. We can't be having any risk-reward equations here. You see, in soccer, it's not fair that you might take a chance to weaken your defense in order to spring a man deep downfield behind the defense." Has this moron never heard of defensive runs? Has he no concept of fullbacks (the defense) pushing forward into space to overwhelm the opponents' defense? Has he no idea about how the different line-ups (offensive-minded and defensive-minded) that are based around cost/benefit (risk-reward in Wright's language). There are plenty of other examples, but why should I explain the game. Like all games not based purely on chance, soccer is full of risks and potential rewards. It is absolutely idiotic to contend otherwise.

Oh right, now the off-sides trap nonsense. Wright says "the world's best defenses employ what they call 'the off-sides trap.' In other words, they use the socialist rules to the hilt. Here, a defenseman gets beaten downfield on purpose to get a call against his opponent." Are we supposed to be impressed that Wright knows the phrase off-sides trap? Too bad he has no clue about how it actually works above an AYSO level of play. A defender does not allow himself to be beaten, the defender stays forward forcing his offensive opponent to time a forward run in relation the offensive player's team mate's pass. It sounds much more complicated then it is. Incidentally, the off-sides trap is an example of risk-reward-- the defense risks being in a disadvantageous position to force the offense to be precise.

There's absolutely no reason for me to address the idiocy of bringing in the IRS and taxation into this. How about if Wright explains the U.S. tax codes in terms that involve the Miguel Cotto vs. Yuri Foreman boxing match?

So let's break the argument to it's essential evidence and review why Wright thinks soccer is a socialist sport-- there's an off-sides rule and soccer's a low scoring game. Hockey has an off-sides rule and it's a pretty low scoring game too. Do you think that makes hockey fascist?

And just to add a sense of unintentional irony, Wright then writes:

"And no liberal or socialist sport would be complete without a generous dose of self-importance, arrogance, and snobbery among its followers. I mean, it's bad enough that we have to see the kids running around in almost soft-porn thigh-highs and sandals every Saturday as they pile out of mini-vans at every Shoney's, Applebee's, and Hampton Inn everywhere. But it's the 'yeah, but it's the worlds most popular sport' attitude that really gets to me."

I do wonder where Wright can possibly dredge up the nerve to criticize others for self-importance, arrogance, and snobbery. Let's see in this very article Wright has stated that soccer is popular only in third-rate countries that face starvation, that because soccer is not terribly popular in the U.S. it is "dirt," all the while demonstrating an absolute and vapid ignorance of the game that he attempts to pithily smear. And why bring up "kids running around in almost soft-porn thigh-highs and sandals every Saturday as they pile out of mini-vans?" What does that have to do with anything?

If I didn't know better (and I do), I would idly wonder if Wright was a plant-- a Leftist writer intentionally trying to make the Right seem like ignorant fools. I mean, look what Wright manages to do in this essay. First he has claimed that fairness, national pride, and patriotism are all principles of socialism. Wright weaves in paranoia by asserting that ESPN is trying to indoctrinate us with socialistic principles through soccer. He claims soccer is "the quintessential socialist sport" simply by arbitrarily assigning qualities to it that soccer does not possess, and then indulging in analogies that either make absolutely no sense or are such a logical stretch that he makes MoveOn.org's people seem perfectly rational by comparison. And Wright manages to do this all the while feigning expertise in a sport he demonstrates next to no knowledge in (pseudo-intellectualism anyone?), and, just as a bonus, manages to pepper in needless insults to foreign countries throughout... Quite an accomplishment for such a short essay really.

Look, no one needs to like soccer. But to criticize it in this way, Wright should at least have an inkling of understanding about it. Wright demonstrates the same sort of self-righteous idiocy that those on the Left display when they they declare that if you don't like soccer, you're a racist. And that's really where all this comes in. Wright wants to insert himself into a conversation between Glenn Beck (not a fan of soccer) and various Leftist bloggers who contend that Beck is a racist for not liking soccer. While addressing this barbed idiocy from the Left is, I suppose, legitimate-- with a health care "reform" law that needs to be repealed, Cap & Tax on the plate, along with a Value Added Tax waiting in the wings (among other issues), all in addition to suicidal federal spending, one would think that there are currently more important issues to address.

7 comments:

  1. wow, very well demolished indeed, Yukio. What is it about otherwise intelligent (although I don't know about Wright) American pundits whose brains turn to jelly when the subject of soccer comes up?

    I would have said the American antipathy to soccer is a classic case of sour grapes, EXCEPT, the USA has just topped its World Cup group - added to the little-acknowledged fact that the women's team has won the WC twice (and come third three times).

    It's not about the rules - nobody can rationally say a sport is boring just because they're not interested in it. But the idea it's a socialist sport because a lot of poor people play it? Ridiculous.

    Soccer is a great equaliser, because a lot of third world countries are very good at it. So what? It doesn't make them socialists either. The game has been around long enough to be manipulated and abused by the 20th Century's worst despots, but again, that's just a historical matter and not inherent to the game itself.

    I can't help but believe that the American antipathy towards soccer (which is by no means universal, of course!) is because Americans have their 'own' sports and have no need of 'foreign' ones. Which is, of course, their right - but to irrationally denounce that sport is just poor form indeed.

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  2. "I can't help but believe that the American antipathy towards soccer (which is by no means universal, of course!) is because Americans have their 'own' sports and have no need of 'foreign' ones. Which is, of course, their right - but to irrationally denounce that sport is just poor form indeed."

    I agree with everything said above. I played soccer for ten years and love to watch it when I can, but that's me. Soccer isn't that popular in America because America has a ton of other sports that are very well funded. In terms of "boringness", as some call soccer, baseball far surpasses soccer in my book. To put political spin on it as Wright did and as Dave Zirin did at the Nation. Though I have to say Zirin is worse. Before the US was kicking ass Zirin said we don't like soccer because we're racist. Now that we're in the Group of 16 he saying we like soccer because we're imperialist.

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  3. @ Tim Johnston

    To be fair, I believe Wright is overreacting to some American Left pundits who decided to overreact to some American Right pundit's offhand jibes at soccer. Not liking soccer does not equal racism, but that didn't stop these Left people from constructing a whole narrative about the inherent racism that these Right people exhibit by not liking soccer.

    Instead of calling the Left pundits on the idiocy of that idea, Wright decided to foolishly write this off-the-cuff but still paranoid diatribe about "socialist" soccer. So a lot of the Right pundit's overreactions isn't really merely about soccer, but about being called racist for not liking the sport-- not that any of this excuses Wright and some others' silly contentions, but that's the background accounting for a fair amount of it.

    I don't think it's the "foreign" aspect of soccer that puts a lot of Americans off it. I believe Lacrosse is pretty much American, but it's far less popular than soccer in the US. While it doesn't help that the American men's teams aren't that great at the sport, I think the lack of ability to show commercials during broadcasts are what really hurts it. American sports, even basketball, have all sorts of handy breaks so that advertisers can get their plugs in on television and radio. Soccer doesn't have these breaks and I think that put off American advertisers and sponsors, and limited the exposure to the game for several generations of Americans. I don't think that's the only reason for American apathy to the sport, but I believe it's a good part of it.

    @ Fuzzy

    heh :)

    @ Jordan

    Assigning covert political machinations to sporting tastes (as Zirin, Wright et al did) is a fool's game. Pundits on both side of the aisle should know better, but I expect more from the Right.

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