A Bleak Future for the Beautiful Game
As the 2014 World Cup begins to approach in June, it seems appropriate to discuss why soccer has still yet to become a predominant part of American culture. Reasoning for this phenomenon can be found far and wide, and some arguments are more effective than others. The most prevalent argument is that soccer is far too boring. Americans associate excitement in athletics with scoring, and in soccer there is very little scoring and sometimes none at all. Americans don’t appreciate their attention spans being strained trying to sit through a 90 minute game, only for it to end in a 0-0 tie.
This is unlike basketball, football and baseball which not only keep Americans’ attention for the whole contest, but they also have a clear winner! Overtime these sports have become an ingrained part of American culture, while soccer has been left on the sidelines. Not only do a majority of Americans not want to watch soccer, but a slightly smaller group actually despise the game itself. Franklin Foer, in his book, How Soccer Explains the World : An Unlikely Theory of Globalization, explains that, “a loud portion of the [United States] population actively disdains the game, even campaigns against it”. Foer goes on to say that Americans believe soccer represents a “genuine threat to the American way of life”. This is due to the omnipresent sense of American cultural superiority in some American citizens. They feel that the United States should be encouraging our own sports in the international community, the way we sell democracy, rather than adopting European norms.
Both of the arguments discussed have some merit, but they fail to take into account the fundamental cause of soccer’s inability to become popular in the United States. It is clear that soccer has yet to become a distinct part of American culture due to its origins in England. Humans have been kicking balls around for thousands of years, but modern day soccer owes its origins to England. Before 1863 soccer was extremely violent and disorganized. Players brought weapons to the contest and fatal injuries were common.
For this reason, soccer was outlawed in English cities even though it was quite popular. In 1863, the Football Association was formed and a vague set of rules were created. This spurred the creation of several soccer leagues not only in England, but throughout Europe and the West. Soccer’s fantastic mobility is due to British influence in Europe and all across the western world at that time. This is where the U.S.
comes in. During this time when soccer was expanding throughout the world, the U.S. was going through an embarrassing reconstruction period after the Civil war — a war that England was more than happy to finance. One can understand why Americans would be reluctant to adopt a sport, such as soccer, from a place such as England. Americans resolved to create their own national pastimes, instead of adopting soccer from the Brits.
Due to this reluctance, the “Big 3” in the U.S. (football, basketball, and baseball) had a 100 year head start over soccer, to capture the hearts of the American public. Soccer has done well over the past 30 years to establish a small American fan base devoted to the game. This growth has been spurred on by expanding network coverage of soccer games in England, the U.
S, and elsewhere, along with coverage of international tournaments. However, this slight growth will never be enough to unseat the three sports that are already so established in the United States. It seems that the future of the beautiful game in the United States is, indeed, very bleak.