A Mind That Suits What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011 :::
Soccer Moms Aren't

Stage Mothers:

Why American Kids

Love Soccer

The estimable Jay Nordlinger, in the latest installment of his usually delightful and always thought provoking Impromptus web column, takes a very economical swipe at soccer--loading nearly every conservative shibboleth about soccer into a few lines. (See his column here, and scroll down to the fourth item. Richard Brookhiser did a thoroughly comprehensive job in a piece called This Cup Is Empty (subsription required).  Mr. Nordlinger wonders thus:  I guess I am willing to cede, or concede, soccer’s primacy among the young. (How did that happen? And so fast? Liberal parents’ fears that their children would get hurt in the traditional American sports?)

That is an interesting point, but first some charming caveats.

It should pain A Mind That Suits to see such temper tantrums, having fallen in love with The Beautiful Sport when he saw an English Cup Final as a wee slip of a lad on ABC's Wide World of Sports.    However, he looks with indifference on all such expostulations--on the web, on the printed page, on sports call-in shows.  He has never felt the need to disparage anyone's favorite pasttime.  De gustibus non disputandum, as the Romans said: concerning tastes, there is no arguing.

The Wide World of Sports--that about says it all.  A Mind That Suits likes all sports.  They are all the Beautiful Sport.  A Mind That Suits once spent a delightful evening watch Italian youngsters mock the famed horse races of Sienna on donkeys.  And he has spent countless hours poolside, watching what may well be the greatest spectator sport of all, water polo.

Yes, A Mind That Suits loves all sports.  Well, all sports except ones where the point is hurting people or animals.  Boxing is hardly the Sweet Science.  It is grotesque exploitation. It sucks the Jay Gatzes from the lowest segment of society, holding out the prospect of Gatsby-esque wealth.  What it actually does is rob most boxers of the faculties that, if marshalled correctly, could have helped them find their way to a realistic realization of the American dream, a dream which, all too often, their parents came here hoping their children could indeed achieve.

About Ulimate, he can do no better than quote a young friend, who said simply, "So we've gone back to Roman Gladiators?"

Back to the sports he loves:  because A Mind That Suits is so catholic in his sporting tastes, he has never understood the need to disparage one sport to build up another, just as he is able to love the 49ers and not worry who buried them over the last decade on the way to the Super Bowl.  (Free at last of the hangover from the deBartolo years; things are looking up in the City by the Bay.)

However, he may be able to shed a little light on why American youngsters have turned to soccer in such droves.  That pains Mr. Nordlinger, but it also explains why soccer will probably never be a big deal professionally here, which pains liberals.

Consider water polo:  it is not a big deal in the United States, but it is huge in the area around the Adriatic.  So huge that little tiny countries routinely beat Russia and the US, traditional powerhouses in other aquatic sports.  Not so long ago, Slovenia won the European Cup, about the only Cup that matters in water polo.

Now, A Mind That Suits spend as many minutes as he can in Italy.  Once he discovered how big "water ball" (pallanuoto) was in the Beautiful Country, he got on line and made e-mail friends with some players.  When he was in Rome, he bought lunch for a player in Rome named Alessandro.  Now, Alessandro was by American standards, a winner.  He got straight A's (voti pieni--'full votes') in a degree in business admistraiton and captained his team to a championship in Serie C (Division III), which meant they advanced up to Serie B Division II).  I asked young Alessandro why he picked pallanuoto.  He replied simply that he hated soccer and liked swimming.  (That water polo is, as is American basketball, a version of soccer--A Mind That Suits left that unremarked)

"You are lucky, " young Alessandro continued. "In America, you have three television sports.  In Italy, we only have one."

Love that expression--"television sport."  Says it rather nicely.

And that observation explains, first of all, why soccer will never become a major sport in the US, for the very same reason hockey never will be: there's no room left in the year.

To complete the picture, A Mind That Suits will quote other young people he has either talked to or seen quoted.  Young Americans take to soccer because there is no way their parents can live through them.

Free markets, you see, are a two edged sword if ever there was one.  Basketball in particular, but football and baseball also, draw youngsters who dream of unexampled riches. Most of them are used, then thrown out into the world completely unprepared for anything else.  Many parents take lessons from Michael Jackson's grasping mother and father. 

Conservatives who refuse to see how television money has spoiled America's three television sports are probably the same ones who disparage concerns about America's wastelines and rate of diabetes.  Free markets can get you what you want, and that often is a real problem.  Consider how many professional athletes are such disasters personally.  They learned all the skills that sports can teach you, but not how to apply them to anything else they do.  Pity the far greater number of kids who were pushed to train only for success in only one thing, but weren't successful at it.

Kids choose lesser sports because they can get all the benefits from sports--learning concentration and dedication--and keep themselves off the streets without having to worry about what happens when they hit 22, or what starry-eyed dreams their parents might have.  They can experience "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat" in their purest form.

So they abandon the traditional American sports...and have exactly zero interest in spoiling their own.  So, lefties, give up: there is no really serious professional soccer in the US because there just is no demand for it.

Final thoughts:

  • The last time he went to the water polo NCAAs, he was distressed to see that there was VIP seating and a catered VIP tent.  American cash does have a tendency to spoil everything.  If those VIPS really loved the sport, they would have noticed that the good views began on the other side of the barrier.
  • There is an anti-Americanism to Americans who worship soccer.  There is always the sense that they want to show Americans something superior.  Thank heavens they will never get their way.
  • At the time of the World Cup, Matthew Kaminski of the Wall Street Journal offered a very interesting analysis of why soccer will never be embraced as a spectator sport by Americans, which you can see here. It goes to A Mind That Suits belief that the reason baseball and American football are such all-American sports is that you need a lawyer to follow the rules.
  • The World Cup, by the way, involves a sport beloved in Europe and Latin America.  Of the top five countries by population, only the US is any kind of contender at all, and it somehow always ends up as an also ran.  In China, it's gambling and ping pong.  Draw a line from Karachi to Wellington, and it's cricket.
  • The worst are Americans who insist on calling soccer "football."  That is, for one thing, not the official name of the sport, and there are seven sports from Anglo-Saxon countries called "football."  As are nrealy all sports, all seven are wonderful.

::: posted by A Mind That Suits at 3:05 PM



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