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“Soccer is Ruining America,” claims Stephen H. Webb. Wow…

…my money was on fast food and guns.  Shows what I know.

Let’s face it–Monday’s loss to Italy was heartbreaking.  The last thing we need right now is another divisive article about the merits of Frankie Hejduk, Bob Bradley, and the 4-5-1 formation.  Now is a time for unity.  I’ve been sitting on this article for quite some time now, waiting for a day just like today.  If nothing else, my fellow American soccer fans, we can all agree on this: Stephen H. Webb is an idiot.  Just who is Mr. Webb?  He is a professor of religion and philosophy at Wabash College.  He is the author of such recent books as American Providence and Taking Religion to School(ugh).  Most importantly, he is an unabashed hater of soccer.  This article is ridiculous.  In all seriousness, it is so unbelievably, mind-blowingly dumb that I’m almost convinced it’s some form of parody–yes, it is really that outrageous.  Regardless, I’m going to take a shot at it.  If you’re up to the task, you can join in by using the comments section below.  Here we go…

Soccer is running America into the ground, and there is very little anyone can do about it. Social critics have long observed that we live in a therapeutic society that treats young people as if they can do no wrong. Every kid is a winner, and nobody is ever left behind, no matter how many times they watch the ball going the other way. Whether the dumbing down of America or soccer came first is hard to say, but soccer is clearly an important means by which American energy, drive and competitiveness are being undermined to the point of no return.

This was supposed to be easy–a pop-up the likes of which even Luis Castillo couldn’t miss.  But honestly, there are so many misinformed, downright stupid statements here, I don’t even know how to respond.  Wow.

What other game, to put it bluntly, is so boring to watch?

I know this one!  Answer: any game you don’t take the time to understand.

The linear, two-dimensional action of soccer is like the rocking of a boat but without any storm and while the boat has not even left the dock.

Two-dimensional action?  Apparently Steve’s assessment of soccer is based on the Football Manager match viewer. Watching the dots is about appreciating nuance, Steve–not action.

Think of two posses pursuing their prey in opposite directions without any bullets in their guns.

I think you can do this for any sport.  I’ll give it a shot.  Baseball: Think of an escaped convict running in a circle and the prison guards are not allowed to tackle him…and forget bullets, they don’t even have guns.  Bam.

For those who think I jest, let me put forth four points, which is more points than most fans will see in a week of games—and more points than most soccer players have scored since their pee-wee days.

Goals scored in MLS last week: 23.  Goals scored by Fernando Torres since his pee-wee days: it is conservatively estimated at 912.

1) Any sport that limits you to using your feet, with the occasional bang of the head, has something very wrong with it. Soccer is a liberal’s dream of tragedy: It creates an egalitarian playing field by rigorously enforcing a uniform disability.

Wait.  Isn’t that the definition of any sport?  Hockey: everyone has to hit the puck with a stick.  Basketball: everyone has to throw the ball through a small metal hoop.  Without an “egalitarian playing field” and a “rigorously enforced uniform disability,” it wouldn’t be a sport.  It would be work.

We have the thumb, an opposable digit that God gave us to distinguish us from animals that walk on all fours.

I would argue that big brains and unique palates help, too (other primates have hands, after all), but that’s another argument.

When you are really angry and acting like an animal, you kick out with your feet. Only fools punch a wall with their hands.

Kicking a wall, on the other hand…  Steve.  Get to the point.  You must be building up to something big here.

Do kids ever say, “Trick or Treat, smell my hands”?

There it is.  Well played.

Did Jesus wash his disciples’ hands at the Last Supper? No, hands are divine (they are one of the body parts most frequently attributed to God), while feet are in need of redemption.

Jesus.  Okay.  Counter argument: if hands are divine, why should they be subjected to such lowly activities as hurling objects without a sound utilitarian purpose?  That sounds like foot work, to me.

SUMMARY OF POINT #1: Hands are God’s most important gift to man.  Therefore, feet should not be used in sports–that would be downright disrespectful.  It can be deduced from the text that Mr. Webb is leading the charge against the field goal, most track-related sports, and competitive jump rope.  It can also be deduced that Mr. Webb is a huge fan of team handball, a.k.a. “sacerdotal soccer”.

2) Sporting should be about breaking kids down before you start building them up.Take baseball, for example. When I was a kid, baseball was the most popular sport precisely because it was so demanding. Even its language was intimidating, with bases, bats, strikes and outs.

As we all know, all children pop out of the womb not only know what goal kicks, offsides, and red cards mean, but how to juggle a soccer ball.  OK–all sarcasm aside–recent studies in Brazil are showing that this might actually be the case.

Striding up to the plate gave each of us a chance to act like we were starring in a Western movie, and tapping the bat to the plate gave us our first experience with inventing self-indulgent personal rituals.

Because if there’s one thing wrong with America, it’s soccer.  Not self-indulgence.

We also spent a lot of time in the outfield chanting, “Hey batter batter!” as if we were Buddhist monks on steroids.

Do you really want to bring ‘roids into this discussion?

SUMMARY OF POINT #2: Unlike soccer, baseball is long, hard, and boring (thus the need for chants to “make time go by,” as he says).  Hence, soccer sucks.

3) Everyone knows that soccer is a foreign invasion, but few people know exactly what is wrong with that.

Points one and two were mere child’s play.  Now it’s time for the xenophobia.

More than having to do with its origin, soccer is a European sport because it is all about death and despair.

While it’s true that soccer as we know it is a European invention, but it should be noted that foot-and-ball games existed from the Americas to East Asia long before colonialism or globalization.  That is one of the great appeals of this game–it has roots almost everywhere.

Americans would never invent a sport where the better you get the less you score.

Actually, they did, and it’s called baseball. We all know that six-inning little league games are much higher scoring than their MLB counterparts.  I’d be interested to see any professional baseball player’s high school numbers.  I would be amazed if you could find a player who hit for a lower average than he does in the majors.

Even the way most games end, in sudden death, suggests something of an old-fashioned duel.  How could anyone enjoy a game where so much energy results in so little advantage, and which typically ends with a penalty kick out, as if it is the audience that needs to be put out of its misery?

Most people actually watch and study a sport before they write a lengthy article bashing it.  Mr. Webb is not one of these people.  It’s not over yet, but I can tell you already that this is the fundamental problem with Mr. Webb’s analysis of the game: he simply doesn’t (nor does he care to) understand it.  It reminds me of this time I watched Cobra on Telemundo on a lazy Saturday afternoon (I don’t speak Spanish, by the way).  Here’s the difference between Mr. Webb and me–I didn’t attempt to write a review afterwards.

SUMMARY OF POINT #3:  God loves hands but hates foreigners.

4) And then there is the question of sex. I know my daughter will kick me when she reads this, but soccer is a game for girls.

As if nebulous, ungrounded arguments weren’t enough, Mr. Webb now feels the need to resort to playground-worthy insults.

As a display of nearly death-defying stamina, soccer mimics the paradigmatic feminine experience of childbirth more than the masculine business of destroying your opponent with insurmountable power.

I love baseball as much as the next American, but you have admit it there isn’t much physical confrontation in the sport.  Soccer is a rough sport filled with concussions, torn ligaments, and broken limbs.  Skirmishes in baseball are resolved by the cowardly sucker-punch known as the beaner.

SUMMARY OF POINT #4: Soccer is for girls.  Amazing.

I’ve had enough.  I’ll let the last couple paragraphs slide.  But I’ll leave you with this…

What I find most frustrating about this argument is the author’s convenient reliance on double standards.  Baseball is great because it’s so hard to accomplish your goal of hitting the ball; soccer is horrible because it is so hard to score a goal.  Football is great because it requires so much physical exertion; soccer sucks because…it requires so much physical exertion.  Getting ejected for shoving in baseball is just;  getting penalized for shoving in soccer is un-American (despite the same being true for basketball).  I have a sincere question for the author:

Honestly, Professor Webb, if one of your students handed in a paper that was so poorly researched, so filled with holes, and so willfully ignorant, would you hand out a passing grade?  If not, why do you hold yourself to lesser standards?  If so, find a new job.


3 Responses

  1. Interesting points. But Futebol fans in South America and Europe have a history of going nuts when their teams lose. Check out Argentina and Brasil after a team looses. My wife said to me How come the fans don’t fight each other? I said in America the players go into the stands and attack the fans. The fans attack the players Bobby Gee Check out my blog

  2. Do a little more research and you’ll find his comments elaborating that this was meant as satire, for all the reasons you mentioned above and more. Glad you’re so passionate about the subject, though!

  3. Andrew,

    After I read his article a second time (before I posted my commentary) I added this:

    “In all seriousness, it is so unbelievably, mind-blowingly dumb that I’m almost convinced it’s some form of parody–yes, it is really that outrageous. Regardless, I’m going to take a shot at it.”

    You’re right, though–I should have taken the time to register with the WSJ so I could read the comments on the article.

    I was obviously unjustly critical of Mr. Webb, but the world is still full of Jim Romes. Hopefully that fact means this article isn’t a complete waste of space.

    Thanks for the feedback.

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