Saturday, June 12, 2010

Are We Too Sophisticated for Soccer?

Every four years Americans are made to feel like provincial rubes for not caring about the world's most popular sport, soccer.

I myself have suffered from these insinuations, just because I have no interest in the World Cup. I made some remark about how I thought it had already started a week ago, and a soccer enthusiast rolled his eyes.

I find this odd. Since when is anyone made to feel like a barbarian for not liking something that's incredibly popular? San Francisco hipsters refuse to like a band that gets played on the radio. And yet they're supposed to be enthusiastic about something that has TWO BILLION fans?

Let's put this in perspective:
The most popular beer in the world is Budweiser.
The most popular restaurant is McDonald's.
The most popular musical artist is Michael Jackson.
The most popular first name is Muhammad.
The most popular book (other than the Bible) is "Quotations from Chairman Mao."
The most popular view on wife-beating: that it's totally okay.

I don't have anything against these things being popular (well, except the wife-beating), but would anyone EVER be made to feel like a halfwit just because he didn't embrace them. Popularity is no sign of quality, people.

Soccer is widely loved for three reasons:
1. It's cheap. All you really need to play is a ball. (You don't have to get helmets, shoulder pads, bats, rackets or a skating rink.)
2. It's easy to grasp. The rules are simple enough for anyone to learn quickly, whether they're a team of 8-year-olds or the illiterate masses.
3. There's not a lot of starting and stopping.

None of those things is true of America's two most popular sports: baseball and football. I've been watching football for most of my life, and I still don't really get what most of the players are doing out there (I hope I never have to explain "backfield motion" to anyone).

Baseball and football both rely heavily on strategy and playmaking. The coach is orchestrating everything, using reams of statistics to make decisions. That's less the case with soccer, which is more about players making quick decisions on the fly.

Are baseball and football "better" than soccer? I'm not going to pass judgment (though arguably a sport where a large percentage of games result in a tie is poorly devised). What I'm saying is baseball and football are thinking men's games. They're more cerebral.

That makes it all the more ironic that Americans would get hassled for not liking soccer. It's like you're on the bus reading Thomas Pynchon and someone says to you, "You moron, why aren't you reading 'The Da Vinci Code'?"

Final thought: In England — a soccer-crazed country if there ever was one — the most popular movie at the box office right now is "StreetDance 3D."

Are you really going to let them make you feel bad?