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A Critique of the Right’s War on Soccer

Howard Wolfson asks whether soccer has arrived in America? Good entry, but my question is who is Matt Drudge? This might make me look stupid (not that difficult), but I don’t know who he is. I’ve come across his name before, I assume he’s new media, and I’m an old person. But that’s neither here nor there. 

So forgive me for the upcoming mini-rant, Howard. It is not directed at you by any means. I’m just tired of the question. 

Has soccer arrived? I’ve always wondered why that question is asked. Has soccer ever not been in America for it to arrive? I’m not being facetious. I know the underlying question is “When will soccer be as big as it is in other countries,” or “When will soccer be as big in America as basketball or baseball,” which isn’t exactly the same thing. 

I have been playing soccer nonstop in this country since I arrived in 1977. I’ve never had a problem finding a team, a league, or a pickup game. Actually, I’m not sure I want soccer to get bigger. We have so many teams in San Francisco that there aren’t enough fields. Horror of horrors, we have to play some games in the suburbs, cross a bridge even. There are leagues of teams for players over 35, there’s even one for 50 and over. (I’m thinking of joining a team from the latter. It would be good to feel like the young pup for a change.) The gay team in the city, the San Francisco Spikes, now has over 85 registered members. They are able to field three different teams. 

Has soccer arrived? Please.

Soccer is the most widely played sport in the U.S. I don’t know what the percentages are. Per capita, European countries have more soccer fans and players than the United States, but I don’t think that’s the case in terms of pure numbers. We fill stadiums, large stadiums. I think I’m being conservative when I say there are more people playing soccer in the United States than in 90% of the world’s other countries, probably 95%.

So let’s say, again being terribly conservative, that there are 300 million Americans who don’t care for soccer or the World Cup. More power to them. That still leaves, what, 20 million who do. Wow.

All I ever cared about was being able to find a team with players desperate enough to let me play with them. It hasn’t been that difficult!

The discussion is brought up endlessly. Some will suggest that I live in San Francisco, that people who live in the Midwest don’t care for soccer. So not true. Go to any park in Chicago, or Cleveland, or Dearborn, and you’ll find soccer. We’re constantly told that no one watches the MLS here. Not true. Thousands turn out for every game.  I don’t attend because I’d rather watch Arsenal or Barcelona on television. How can we say that soccer isn’t big when there are dozens of games being shown on television 24/7?

Of course, the big elephant in the room isn’t Blanco, it’s that when people say soccer isn’t big in America, the millions of players and fans can be ignored because they aren’t real Americans. The implication is that soccer isn’t big in the ephemeral thing we call ‘middle America,’ this imaginary real America.

I won’t get into how silly this statement is, and I won’t mention Arizona, a lovely state that I’ve visited many times—legally, of course (great tacos).

Soccer is really big in my America.

It is true that some of us brought our love of the game from the lands where we were born. On the soccer fields, I have played with Americans who were born in Cameroon, England, Italy, Egypt, Palestine, Israel, Russia, China, Brazil, Norway, and even Nebraska, to name a few; Americans who grew up in Stockton, Mexico City, Lima, Paris (Texas and France), Florence (South Carolina and Italy), Peoria, Guadalajara, Little Rock, Dusseldorf, and Trenton. We all brought our soccer obsession from somewhere.

Why must we chatter on and on about this? Ever since I can remember, everyone keeps insisting that soccer has arrived/is arriving/will arrive really, really soon.

Yes, Glen Beck (unfortunately, him, I’ve heard of) may go on and on, “We don't want the World Cup, we don't like the World Cup, we don't like soccer, we want nothing to do with it,” but actually, we do. So Drudge and Beck should discuss whether soccer is here or not. Maybe next week Jerry Seinfeld will decide he likes the World Cup or Lady Gaga that she doesn’t, and the media will wonder how big soccer is, while millions of Americans continue playing the game and enjoying it.

Nabokov told a story about walking up a hill with his butterfly net, noticing a couple on their way down. He asked them if they saw any butterflies along the path. They replied that there were none. When Nabokov reached the top, he saw the hill teeming with all kinds of butterflies that the couple hadn’t paid any attention to. 

If you want to know whether soccer is big in America, pick a weekend, go to any park in the land, and pay attention. We’re there. We’ve always been.