Sports are a reflection of national character and aspirations, and it is no coincidence, I think, that soccer has had a hard time catching on in the United States. Simply put, soccer—call it “football” if you must—is a tragic game, and thus it cuts deeply against the grain of the American ethos. Americans are an optimistic people. We like scoring too much to enjoy a game that is more about preventing success than achieving it.
Soccer is like watching a bunch of Sisyphuses competing against each other by trying to roll the same rock up a hill—without using their hands, of course. And there’s a big guy on top of the hill just waiting to kick the rock all the way back to the bottom. Let’s remember that in the original myth, Sisyphus was being punished; there was no break in the action, and no flopping either.
To the American mind, the only time games are supposed to be tragic are when we lose in a sport we love in the international arena. A real sport, like hockey. Otherwise, Americans should be able to make progress in any game, overcoming obstacles, changing rules, buying the best players. That has not happened in soccer because the design of that game has old-world values written all over it: Individuals should not try to stand out from the crowds, one group should not have too many advantages over another, drawing attention to yourself is distasteful, and so on. The tools of your trade shouldn’t be too splashy, either—why use your hands when your feet will do?
Although Americans love games that highlight individual performances—and the more the better—soccer seems designed to minimize their frequency. How many times during a baseball, (real) football or basketball game does someone do something that is utterly transcendent in its expression of skill and strength? Many times. Such moments of beauty are the main reason we find sports so attractive.
In soccer, however, these performances are more like an accident than a natural part of the so-called beautiful game. Fans keep their expectations so low that they are actually surprised, really surprised, when someone kicks the ball in an inhumanly perfect manner. And if the perfect kick does not go in the goal, well, that’s not surprising at all. Soccer thus appeals to the pessimist, the person who wagers that it is better to avoid disappointment than to demand too much joy. In other words, foreigners…
[continues at at Politico]
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