Wednesday, June 16, 2010

You know what's wrong with this country? SOCCER.

Amanda Marcotte, "Pandagon" : The wingnut anti-soccer lie machine, or how teabaggers determined England is in South America.

Conservatives have been spouting off about how the rise of soccer is indicative of the downfall of America, most notably G. Gordon Liddy.

I bet you didn't know that the rise of soccer's popularity runs parallel to the rise of illegal immigration. Or that soccer was developed by South American cannibals who kicked the head of their fallen foes around after eating the body.

Amanda already covered the race-baiting particulars of this idiocy. Let's look at how hilariously bad-crazy-wrong all this rhetoric is on its own merit.

A little of my own personal history--I grew up in Tulsa, OK. In the late 70s, Tulsa was hardly a bastion of illegal immigration. My working class East Tulsa neighborhood was about as racially diverse as a neighborhood ever has been in Tulsa, consisting of about 1/4 blacks, American Indians (primarily Cherokee and Creek), Asians, and--yes--Mexican-Americans (such as College Hall of Fame and Dallas Cowboy defensive end Tony Casillas, who grew up 3 blocks from me.) After a few years of pickup games of football, baseball, and, yes, soccer in the backyard, my parents enrolled me in a recreation soccer league under the auspices of the Green Country Soccer Association, at the time one of the largest such organizations in the country.

Yes, that's right--right in the center of the redneck, Southern Baptist Bible Belt soccer was A BIG FREAKING DEAL.

Oh yeah, about all the kids in the East Tulsa league--despite the racially diverse (for Tulsa) neighborhood. THEY WERE ALL WHITE. Most of the nonwhite kids did Pop Warner football instead. The Mexican kids? THEY WERE ALL PLAYING BASEBALL AND FOOTBALL.

(Hey, you fucking right-wing knobs--what the fuck do you think a "soccer mom" is anyway? Yes, that's right, MY MOTHER, in 1979, a redneck conservative Christian.)

There's more to this story than just the fact that soccer has been the #1 adult participation team sport in this country for more than a generation (finally supplanting bowling in the 80s). Idiots like Liddy seem to forget that MLS is the second attempt at a professional soccer league in this country. The first was called the "North American Soccer League", which was really the "American Soccer League", but added the "North" out of respect to the two Canadian teams.

Oh, yeah, Tulsa. Tulsa never had a premier-level professional team before 1978. Oh sure, we had the short-lived USFL Oklahoma Outlaws, but our first real, genuine pro team was the Tulsa Roughnecks, our NASL franchise. The Roughnecks played at the University of Tulsa's Skelly Stadium, which was a concrete slab covered in Astroturf. I can't imagine playing soccer on something like that, but legends such as Georgio Chinalia and even Pelé endured the risks to bring the glory of professional soccer to eager American fans. Especially kids like me, who wated superstars to look up to in much the same way my football-playing buddies looked up to Terry Bradshaw and Roger Staubach.

Hell, I still remember names like Billy Caskey, Victor Moreland, Gene "Dr. Du" DuChateau, and Barry Wallace. By the way, three out of four of these guys (as well as half the team, usually) were from fucking ENGLAND, which is where soccer REALLY COMES FROM, you history-challenged MORONS.

NASL games never had much trouble selling tickets. The trouble is that the league couldn't make money because soccer is fundamentally incompatible with the American media model for generating ad revenue from sports. Other mainstream American sports have natural breaks for ads. Footaball games pause 1 minute and 50 seconds on EVERY change of possession and EVERY timeout called before 5:00 left in the half. Basketball games have MANDATORY stoppages every 4 minutes of clock time. Hockey has similar provisions. Baseball, of course, has side changes and pitching chages. Other sports were edited in advance as montages.

Soccer, however, was a problem. What national TV network in the early 80s would tolerate 45 minutes of continuous action? There were other issues, too--soccer had its own conventions such as the referee keeping the official time and making his own adjustments for stoppages. Earlier generations of artificial surfaces were awful. Stadiums built for football before 1980 did not have soccer in mind, and the pitches were ridiculously narrow (this is still occasionally a problem in MLS, by the way). NASL experimented with rule changes to make the game more America-friendly, which annoyed both the fans and FIFA.

In short, NASL was ahead of its time, and died an ugly death in 1984. But it wasn't because people didn't enjoy it. It's because the corporate media oligarchs couldn't figure out how to make money from it. MLS fares better, because of smart marketing. For instance, creating artificial scarcity by limiting ticket sales to the lower sections of multipurpose venues. Also, technology allows for electronic ad boards along the pitch, generating ad revenue that can be shared with broadcasters. The end result is that you have more trouble getting MLS tickets in more cities than, say, NBA tickets.

Oh, sure, many teams have a large Latino contingent for fans. But only in those areas with lots of Latino people to begin with. Go to a Sounders FC game some time, Liddy--it's a sea of white faces. Not to mention that its chief owner is a white dude who grew up playing soccer on fucking MERCER ISLAND. Oh yeah, and we all know about the club's more famous backer--that great Latino comic and The Price is Right host Drew Carey. Oh, wait, I guess he isn't Latino. Oops.

Finally, sure, we did have to learn a little Spanish to enjoy the World Cup. Everyone on my soccer team, anyway, was pleased to learn that Tulsa Cable (now part of Comcast) was adding SIN (now called Univision) to its lineup in time for the 1982 World Cup. People weren't really all that worried about illegal immigration in 1982, but it was true that the Spanish-speaking communities of our country were crazy about the World Cup (by the way, SIN's primary audience in those days were Cubanos in Miami and Puerto Ricans in New York--NOT Mexicans, though sure a lot of Mexicans watched it from the LA area, an area that has had Mexicans for, gee, I don't know, 500 years.) That inspired me to take five years of Spanish in junior high and high school. I've follwed every World Cup since. And now I don't even have to understand Spanish to follow the action (a development that didn't occur until FUCKING 2006, by the way.)

I suppose the teabagger contingent doesn't even bother with the truth--if they make things up ABOUT FUCKING SOCCER OF ALL THINGS in order to incite racial hatred....well, I guess the Crazy Train hasn't just left the station, but it's nearing its destination. If it weren't so serious, it would be laughable.