Conservative commentator Ann Coulter wrote a syndicated column titled "Any growing interest in soccer a sign of nation's moral decay."
It was published within three hours of my piece "How Appreciation of World Cup Became Engrained in Culture of Millennials."
Coulter blamed -- yes, she uses the term 'blame' -- more Americans watching soccer today on Ted Kennedy's 1965 immigration law. "No American whose great-grandfather was born here is watching soccer," she wrote.
My story asserted that Generation Y was built to embrace soccer. Technology, media access, video games and bar culture developed a following not just during the World Cup, but during four years in between.
My conscience told me not to feed the troll, but then friends (Stanley Kay of Sports Illustrated and Sylvan Lane of Mashable) passed along some other articles critical of soccer's rising popularity in the United States, so here we are. At the start of this year's World Cup, Politico's Stephen H. Webb wrote a piece, "Why Soccer Is Un-American." Webb wrote that soccer's low-scoring numbers are "a lot like socialism: Don't give the fans too much of what they want or they might want to change the game."
Days after Webb's piece, Tim Cavanaugh of the National Review published Soccer: Official Sport of Terrorism. Yes, of course. How could we be so narrow-minded to not recognize the mass terror of a sport played around the world?
"In fact, international soccer unites people against other people. While there is theoretically nothing wrong with that in the context of sports, the blind patriotism around the World Cup, like the cheap nationalism surrounding the Olympics, is creepy. Even more unsettling is the secondhand patriotism whereby, for example, my Middle Eastern nephews, lacking local heroes, get cussing-mad over the fates of Germany and Brazil and other nations they’ll probably never set foot in."
The 2014 Super Bowl was the most-watched television event in U.S. history with 111.5 million viewers. The NBA and NHL playoffs were as popular this year as ever (Ann, have you read Sports Illustrated recently?). Baseball is still America's pastime.
Soccer is not taking away from other sports. It is simply adding another dimension of fandom. No one is becoming any more foreign or any more terroristic because Americans are following soccer. In fact, the World Cup is the ultimate act of national pride for the average American (and not blind patriotism). Americans are coming together, wearing red, white and blue, rooting for fellow Americans. In the grand scheme of fast-paced American life, is taking two hours out of the day to share the rush of competition with friends and family a nationalistic crime?
And about Coulter's whole grandfather thing. The United States was actually pretty good at soccer in the early years of the World Cup. The U.S. finished third at the first World Cup in Uruguay in 1930 and qualified in 1934 and 1950. Other nations surpassed the U.S. in soccer talent, but the country did not just start playing soccer in the past few decades.
As for the immigration argument, Coulter's point hovers around Donald Sterling level. You call these people "new Americans," but that is wrong. They are Americans. They are U.S. citizens, players and naturalized and second-generation fans, alike.
Alejandro Bedoya was born in Englewood, N.J. Omar Gonzalez was born in Dallas. Aron Johannsson was born in Mobile, Ala. These names have clear foreign descent, but all three were born in the United States.
There are five German-Americans are the USMNT. All five have fathers who served in the United States military. Is that foreign?
I get it. Many of the players do not look like men whose great-grandfathers lived in this country. But that's exactly what makes this team so American. In eighth grade, my teacher asked what an American looks like. Most of my classmates and I answered "white." My teacher at Hommocks Middle School in Larchmont, N.Y., was John McCormick, who happened to be the boys' soccer coach, and he told us we were wrong. There is no definite answer of what an American looks like. An American can be white, black, Hispanic, Asian, Indian or any other race. An American can have any sexual expression, come in any size and express any beliefs.
Compared the U.S. team to the rest of the World Cup field. No other team has the diversity of the Americans, who are serving as diplomats in Brazil. They showcase the assimilation of multiple races and backgrounds into one team.
It is culture shock seeing the "#SayNoToRacism" signs all over the stadiums in Brazil. I am proud to live in a nation that can be surprised to see such a sign. I am not saying racism does not exist in the United States, but no public racist comment or action goes without reproach by the public. That is not a knock on the rest of the world for advertising against racism. It is a testament to how tolerant our country is, at this point in time, compared with other nations.
Just as the players paint a colorful picture on the field, we do in bars, living rooms and offices across the United States. Even after decades of assimilation, there is still room for growth in synthesis between some of the micro-cultures of the U.S. On game days, when the USMNT takes the field, those small bumps disappear. We all, regardless of race or background, crowd around our televisions. We celebrate our goals and seek comfort in times of turmoil. The World Cup is the ultimate international sporting event, more so than the Olympics, which may only see a handful of nations legitimately compete for gold in each event.
Perhaps that is what has helped grow the popularity of the World Cup and soccer. It is a way for everyone to connect, whether one's family has been in the U.S. since the Mayflower or immigrated a couple years ago.
As for the X's and O's of the sport, Coulter is making excuses. Sure, the scoring is low and on-field action is sometimes slow. If you would rather watch commercials, as football, basketball, hockey and baseball (a lot of them) all provide, be my guest. The challenge to score is the art of the sport. It is why if you watch just a little bit of soccer, you can see what makes so many people so ecstatic at climatic moments.
Yes, soccer is accessible for children with limited hand-eye coordination and limited strength. I did not realize this is a tragedy. So what if some parents embrace their children's interest in soccer? Soccer demands more stamina than any other sport and only the faster players have a future.
"Liberal moms like soccer because it's a sport in which athletic talent finds so little expression that girls can play with boys," Coulter wrote.
Well, golfers Michelle Wie and Annika Sorenstam have both competed in PGA Tour events. A variety of women have played football at the collegiate and semi-professional level. Are these sports un-American?
That circles us back to the "un-American" argument. Last time I checked, it is in the United States' best interest to be the best at every sport. It may be a spoiled attitude, but when I tuned into the Olympics, I expect Americans to compete at the top level in every event. No one complains when a speed skater wins a gold medal because it is un-American to compete in an individualistic sport more popular in other countries (e.g. The Netherlands) than the United States.
Right, the individualistic argument. "The prospect of either personal humiliation or major injury is required to count as a sport," Coulter wrote.
Tell that to Stephen Gerrard, the English captain, who accidentally headed a ball to Uruguay's Luis Suarez for a goal, resulting in a loss for the Three Lions. Have you not seen the ESPN "30 for 30" on Andres Escobar? Like every team sport, every player has a responsibility, and the team relies on a role from each player.
Soccer's popularity growth in the U.S. is not causing moral decay, a loss of patriotism or a spread of terrorism. It is uniting Americans of all backgrounds and showing the strengths of a democratic nation. Although the USMNT did not have the skill to qualify for the World Cup from 1958-1986, an increase in the sport's popularity in recent decades has brought it to the forefront of the nation's sporting culture.
Yes, immigration, tolerance and capitalism (MLS is a rising company) have improved the talent level and fan support of United States soccer. Just as second- and third-generation politicians and businessmen and doctors and lawyers have done, individuals with foreign ancestry have risen up to play soccer for their country or to become a fan of their nation's soccer team. Along the way, these people have assimilated with Americans whose ancestors have long been a part of the United States.
Next Tuesday, more USMNT jerseys will be bought, FIFA video games will be played and millions of Americans will tune in to the USMNT's Round of 16 match versus Belgium.
It will be an American day, even if it would not have qualified as so when our great-grandfathers were around.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.
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