On the heels of a hugely successful and entertaining Euro 2008 tournament, I'm thinking again about Soccer in America.
It is almost a pastime for some sports writers and hard core gridiron fans to square off against football fans. As it would appear to me that the two sports are entirely different, this zero sum mentality from gridiron fans escapes me. The fact this debate peters along has led me to gather up some thoughts.
Is it not bizarre that of all the sports out there, pure gridiron football fans seem to have an almost pathological aversion to the world game? Is it the sharing of the name? The common ancestor so to speak? Is it rooted in an "us" vs. "them" old American isolationism? There is something there for sure; some animosity I can't seem to put my finger on.
It's not like the two sports competed against each other for time in American high schools - at least not mine - gridiron was an Autumn sport and high school soccer was in Spring. In fact, we had a couple of guys that played both quite well (besides the kickers).
Staying with the high school theme for a moment, I must admit the babes in school consistently went for the soccer players over the gridiron boys. I suppose it's no surprise that cute girls go for fit guys over fat guys. In fact, there could be something there. Perhaps some of the "gridiron soccer hate" may be a remnant of high school angst, grounded in some Freudian slap in the face that builds in to an anti-soccer condition as an adult? Any psychologists reading this out there care to weigh in?
Beyond that, perhaps it's just a generic sports ego thing, derived from conflict through competition. Clearly NFL and NCAA gridiron are the biggest "per event" spectator sports in the US and yet, once every four years, we see how the entire world unites to not only watch, but live a single month long sporting extravaganza.
The World Cup is the Superbowl times 100. It must be a bit humbling for our gridiron brethren. Maybe the knee jerk reaction is to lash out. That being said, it is a rather bizarre response.
I'm hesitant to chalk the soccer hate up to just good old fashioned American myopia. The fear of the unknown on the other side of dark and distant waters. The world is so much smaller now I can't imagine that soccer haters are surprised by the sport which American kids have taken up en masse. On the flip side, I've actually heard soccer haters lash out at the notion that soccer is "being shoved down their collective throats." Anyone watching mainstream American sports media must surely agree those proclamations are made by people on crack rock.
So I'm still left to ponder the source of the hate. But rest assured that on Sunday's this Fall while a lot of Americans will be plopped on the couch, watching NFL and eating fried snickers bars, I'll be watching the world's great leagues in the morning and out on the pitch in the afternoon.