seven reasons why shaun toback is a xenophobe asshat

I’m going to start today’s article off by apologizing for the very misleading title. I’m not going to be examining the seven main reasons why BleacherReport author Shaun Toback is an asshat, as I don’t have enough time in my day to pour through what is sure to be a litany of varied reasons.

the defeated u.s. women's national team
after the USWNT lost in the world cup final to japan, i braced myself for the “anti-soccer” backlash.

Instead, I’m just going to focus on a tiny sliver of Toback’s douchebaggery: his proclaimed hatred for the sport many of us (and I’d venture to say, most everyone who visits this blog) hold dear.

Let’s also be quick to address the rarity of this type of posting on wrong side of the pond: I’m not normally one to make direct attacks on writers whose opinions I disagree with. But Shaun’s typical, reactionary soccer-bashing article after yesterday’s Women’s World Cup final houses so much flawed logic that my brain is hurting. Trying to comprehend the sheer amount of stupid in this post is literally impossible. His seven “reasons” why non-gridiron football will never take off in this country needed a point-by-point retort, and I feel just pissed off enough to offer my services.

1. Soccer’s Great Moments Are Fleeting

barcelona passing
barcelona’s tiki-taka movement is one of the subtleties that newcomers to the sport often overlook.

Mr. Toback starts off his article letting everyone know he’s a big all-around sports fan. He tells us that he hates soccer, but wants it to succeed, because he likes to watch “great athletes that play [sports] enjoy success.” I’m not exactly sure what the hell that means, but I think he’s trying to imply that it can, at times, be interesting to watch elite athletes compete in a sport he’s not particularly interested in. He probably doesn’t enjoy regularly watching swimming, but was still probably riveted (like the rest of us) by Michael Phelps at the Beijing Olympics.

However, he takes objection with soccer because in the average soccer game, “nothing really happens.” Of course, he’s referring to the typical argument that the only “big events” in soccer are goals. A tried yet tired argument, Toback and the rest of the soccer haters never listen to us when we say there’s significantly more to soccer than just goals. If he really appreciates sports, then he would take the time to understand that much of what makes soccer so special is what happens in between the goals: amazing offensive build ups, slick and tricky passes, intelligent defensive teamwork, brilliant individual displays of skill. Just as with basketball or hockey, it’s awe inspiring to watch masters like Messi, Ronaldo or Xavi completely take over and dominate a match.

Nuances, just as with other sports, are what makes soccer so interesting. Not taking the time to watch and identify those intricacies of each sport will ultimately sour any new viewer’s perception of the game.

2. Soccer Is a Finesse Sport and Americans Don’t Care About Finesse Sports
There is a one word answer that is the perfect, short retort to this point: golf.

 nigel de jong kicks xabi alonso
nigel de jong packs enough violence into his game to keep in the most cerebral of american fans entertained.

But let’s be honest, one word rebuttals aren’t near as fun as long-winded ones.

Second, making a snap judgment about the lack of speed and power of an entire sport based upon the women’s game is plain ridiculous. I present: women’s tackle football. Have you ever watched paint dry a WNBA game? Aren’t there things called “ladies tees” in golf? All are slower, less explosive versions of the men’s game, and that ultimately makes them a different game that requires a different appreciation.

Third, watch a freaking men’s game. It’s borderline out of control it’s moving so quickly. And if you don’t think there’s violence in soccer: Nigel de Jong has a foot he’d like to put into your chest. Thinking there’s a lack of power in the sport seems silly when you consider that Ryan Shawcross will literally tackle through your leg.

3. The Field Is Too Big
I would believe one of the arguments that Toback makes if he could actually decide what he’s bitching about. Is the field too big or are red card ejections stupid? Sadly, neither argument is strongly backed up.

 real madrid's ronaldo is fast
ronaldo is fast enough to make the field small.

He makes the assertion that playing a man down isn’t really that big of deal, and the team’s odds of still winning aren’t greatly reduced, all because the field is too big. I feel fairly safe in assuming that Toback probably missed the second leg of the Arsenal-Barcelona Champions League tie last year. After Van Persie’s crap ejection, Arsenal’s chances of the winning the match were effectively zilch. But throwing that or any other examples out, his argument is still poor. The whole point of the red card ejection is that the offending team should still be able to compete, just at a disadvantage. Sometimes they overcome it, but most times they don’t.

And if you want to shrink the field just to get more goals or have red cards be more impactful, there’s an existing solution for you: indoor soccer or futsal.

4. ESPN Doesn’t Care About Soccer
To paraphrase a quote from BASEketball, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve seen an MLS commercial for ESPN, I would have a shitload of nickels. Does this guy ever watch any of the ESPN channels? If so, I don’t know how he could miss the channel advertising soccer. Remember the six months leading up to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa? They advertised the Cup so much that I was getting sick of it.

And even though I know it’s not the same network, I’ve seen a plethora of ads pushing Fox Soccer Channel on numerous other stations on my cable provider. Both Fox and ESPN shelled out a lot of money to show MLS and English Premier League games, and they wouldn’t do so if there wasn’t an audience worth selling it to… so I’m pretty sure they care about the sport a little bit.

Comparing soccer’s struggles to pull in American audiences to the audiences pulled in by a 100-year-plus reoccurring national cultural event is like comparing apples and oranges. Soccer is a growing sport facing a tremendously biased and entrenched sports scene. Expecting it out draw something like the All-Star Game consistently is like expecting the professional lacrosse league to suddenly start attracting viewers in the millions in the next 5 years. It’s just not practical, possible or comparable.

5. Excessive Flopping and Terrible Refs
I would throw Toback a bone on this complaint, but he’s a little late to the party. Last time I checked, the quality of refereeing and the debate on how to aid them in an increasingly difficult decision-making process is one of the largest controversies in the sport. And as for diving, it’s one of the few problems in the game that FIFA and the governing bodies are actually attempting to alleviate. As he pointed out, even us diehard fans know these are two massive problems in our sport.

erika of brazil
i’ll give toback credit: as erika showed us, simulation is rampant in the men’s and women’s game.

But while Shaun admitted that cheating and poor refereeing can give a team an “advantage” in American sports, he took it a step further by asserting that matches and tournaments are “routinely” and “completely” decided by these kinds of events in soccer. Is he trying to say that outcomes in the NBA, MLB and NFL are never influenced by these sins?

Wait, I seem to recall an NFL Conference Championship game that just might have been influenced by a controversial referee decision. I also remember Tim Donaghy and the NBA’s referee betting scandal that possibly influenced playoff basketball games.  Armando Galarraga had his place in baseball history destroyed when his perfect game was botched by umpire Bill Hohn.

I’m also guessing that Toback thinks player cheating is exclusive to soccer. Ignoring that the NBA’s Manu Ginobli is a serial flopper — after all, he’s a dirty foreigner — players try to deceive the referees with diving in the NHL (Alex Ovechkin), college basketball (Kemba Walker) and even the NFL (Brett Favre). And while we’re on the topic of players gaming the system, maybe we should just ignore that whole steroids thing that did/didn’t happen in baseball.

Point is, every sport has its black eyes and bad sheep. Holding those against one sport while ignoring the faults of other sports is not only hypocritical, but also a bad reason to think a sport can’t build it’s popularity if those horrible things are happening. Last time I checked, the American sports leagues all recovered from these “disasters.”

6. The Mystery of Extra Minutes and Other Vague Soccer Rules
Here’s the thing about sports: they all have different rules. And in every sport, there are confusing rules. Try explaining icing or offsides to a non-hockey fan, you’ll run into problems. The NBA has been grappling with how to call traveling for a half century. In the NFL, you’re allowed to hit certain players one way, but other players only in a different way.

Just like with any other sport, it takes some time to learn the rules. You can’t just learn them over night, and it takes repeated viewing to learn the differences in how to call a certain situation one way or another.

But if you say that there are virtually no people in this country that have been watching soccer their entire lives and that’s why no one get’s the rules, you must be smoking crack. I sat and watched yesterday’s women’s final with over 70 people (ages 15 – 65) yesterday at a bar in Dayton, Ohio, and just about all of them correctly thought the Japan offsides call in the second half was a bad one. And that’s just one small bar in a mid-sized Midwestern town.

And if you’re really in need of some clarification on the “vague” rules of soccer, read the damn rulebook.

7. Americans Suck at Soccer

giuseppe rossi of villareal
an american superstar does exist: rossi just chose to play for someone else.

No, the US Men’s National team isn’t a World Cup winner, and we’re still a ways off. But it would be foolish to suggest that we suck. There are a slew of Americans playing in the top leagues in the world. We knocked off World and European champions Spain in the Confederations Cup in 2009. We’ve made it to the World Cup quarter finals, something many nations can’t say. And that’s just the men. Our two-time world champion women’s team has made the semifinals or better in every major women’s tournament ever.

Even if we haven’t produced our own American star yet, that has more to do with our crap youth development system than the sport not attracting our biggest and fastest youth athletes. We don’t need LeBron James or Ray Lewis sized athletes to be competitive… Spain’s world-dominating side have an average height of just 5’10”.

And if he really does want the game to succeed, Toback propagating a bunch of biased, non-factual bullshit as to why the game sucks isn’t helping the problem.

————————————–

What it seems like is that, though Shaun insists he has tried to like the game, he has gone into every soccer experience with the same worn-out preconceptions and never looks past what the xenophobe hivemind has instructed him to believe. To fear what is foreign is natural, but to not take the time to learn about it before developing an opinion is ignorant.

Five minutes of Google searches on each objection would have stopped this article in its tracks, but it’s clear that the author didn’t feel it necessary to put in due diligence. It’s always best to bash things without doing your homework, right Shaun?

To be honest though, I don’t know what the guy’s problem is. Maybe some little football playing lassie (lad?) broke his heart at some point during his youth. Or perhaps he’s bent out of shape that he finally invested himself in the sport, and had his heart ripped out when the ladies lost yesterday’s final. So goes soccer, Toback… get used to it.

What’s really interesting though is that if Toback is so disinterested in soccer, then he wouldn’t have written an article all about it in the first place. Even though he thinks he’s tried and failed to get caught up in the “fever” that surrounds soccer, his article actually proves that he might have caught the sickness more than he thought.

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10 Comments

    1. Thanks for the props! I would certainly understand and listen to the author if at least HALF of his arguments and gripes were valid.

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  1. I really had no idea you guys would get so worked up about this. To be honest, I’m kind of flattered that you even took the time to respond to my article, even if it is a response of abject hatred. Quickly, for those of you suggesting that I lose my “job” – the vast majority of Bleacherreport writers are unpaid, including myself. Writing for the website is something I do in my free time for fun. I’m not an expert, and I never claimed to be. It’s not a job, it’s a hobby. Anyways, thanks for reading.

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    1. Mr. Toback: thank you for the long awaited reply. First things first, my apologies for the mud slinging and character assassination in this post. As I’m sure you can tell, my “mild” obsession with soccer causes me to be a bit protective of it due to the long-standing questioning of its credibility as a sport in the US. In the heat of the moment, my passion tends to bleed through. And like you, I also write this blog in my free time. I’ve even contemplated contributing to Bleacher Report myself in the past, the increased exposure the site offers is unquestionably an huge draw in the world of sports blogging.

      To be honest, I’m okay with you not liking soccer. I get that it’s not for everybody. But the sport has made massive progress stateside over the last decade. Even something as insignificant as getting regular face time on SportsCenter shows that we’re starting to “make it” in the mainstream sporting media. And while I respect your right to say why YOU don’t like a particular sport — however flawed — I think it was awfully naive of you to assume that nobody else will like it for the same flawed reasons. Soccer’s growth is a testament to that.

      As writers, I think we have a duty to present facts to that back up our opinions on the topics we write about. With your large readership, I think that duty is amplified. I refuse to believe that you weren’t aware that writing a soccer-smearing article at that time would be controversial, and consequently a boon to your page views. Alone, the article you penned has nearly as many views as my entire blog has ever managed to accumulate. And yet by using biased, unfounded and non-researched points to drag soccer through the mud in front of such a large audience, you undermine a lot of what we’ve been trying to disprove over the last decade in this country.

      If you want to question soccer’s shaky leadership, crippling corruption, debilitating in-fighting, or issues with racism… by all means, join me in the fight. Just don’t throw us under the bus for non-issues. And as always, thanks for reading and contributing to the discussion.

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      1. I appreciate your apology, but I understand where you’re coming from, and I never took any of the many, many negative responses I got personally. People, myself included, take their sports very seriously, and are very passionate about them, so passionate responses to divisive subjects are to be expected. It’s all a part of being a sports fan.

        Perhaps I should clarify what I meant when I said that I didn’t expect people to get so worked up about this. Before I wrote this article, the “most viewed” article I had ever written had probably gotten around 3,000 reads on B/R, with maybe 100 comments. I knew when I wrote the piece that soccer fans would respond negatively to it, but I had no idea that it would get the well over 10,000 reads and 400 comments that it did. It was an article that was written (and published) on a whim. I don’t know why B/R chose to feature the article so heavily, especially considering the facts that I am obviously not a soccer fan, and haven’t written about the sport before or since. To be honest, when I wrote it I thought it would get a couple hundred reads and that would be that.

        There is one area where I disagree, however. I don’t believe that you, me, or anyone else who writes a sports blog has any kind of responsibility to present anything but opinion. A sports blog is an open forum. In my case, it is an opportunity to put my (sometimes flawed) opinions out there. While providing facts and statistics can certainly make an argument stronger, I don’t see it as a requirement for putting something online. The reason that I enjoy writing for B/R is that I can create my own content, write about whatever I want, and have a built-in audience (again, in this case the audience was much larger than what I was expecting).

        Anyways, thanks again for reading and taking the time to respond. It may sound stupid, but I’d rather have an article that gets 400 negative responses that one that gets no feedback at all. That said, since this article was published, I have been much more aware of the potential readership, so the experience of writing this article has taught me a lot – which is never a bad thing.

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  2. You are legitimately a complete idiot. You bash this Toback character for not using facts to back up his opinions, yet you use horribly misconstrued ones for your own personal gain. You say these is a large amount of advertising on ESPN for soccer and that it is shown on TV all the time. I see poker on ESPN more often than I see soccer games, whether it be MLS, Premier League, La Liga, etc. Furthermore, the amount they pay for those games is inconsequential compared to the billions ESPN, Fox, etc. shell out for the football and basketball games here in America.
    Additionally, you use anecdotes that are essentially irrelevant to the “point” you’re attempting to make and then walk away like you proved something. For example, you say you saw a game with 70 people at a bar who understood the game. You go on to state that this proves Americans know and enjoy the sport. If a football or basketball game of equal importance was on and only 70 people showed up to watch it, that would be a complete ratings disaster. Not only that, but places out in the middle of nowhere like where you were are the only places with viewers. Large markets, on the whole, do not give a shit about soccer.
    Finally, every point he made which shed a light on the poor side of soccer you referenced a case which supposedly “proved him wrong.” However, these are all isolated cases which are either flukes, like Nigel De Jong kicking the dude, or only happen a fraction of time they do in soccer. A prime example of this is your reference to Manu Ginobli’s flopping in the NBA. While he does excessively flop, his flopping does not even come close to hoping it can match the absurdity of the blatant flopping the goes on in soccer. To make matters worse, refs regularly award them for their theatrics, encouraging all players to take part in the ridiculousness.
    Now don’t get me wrong; soccer is a growing sport and I myself am a moderate fan of the sport after playing for 12 years. Toback made some stupid points and was clearly not well-educated on the topic. However, you made yourself look like a complete buffoon by responding in such an inarticulate and uniformed manner.

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    1. Let’s start off by saying I’m not entirely sure where to start with countering your own personal response, but the facts seem like a good place.

      If we’re talking purely about money spent to air soccer worldwide, it’s actually not too far behind the NFL. From 2014-2018, four networks will pay roughly $4.95b a year for the NFL. The Premier League — not including the other top European leagues or the World Cup/Euros — pulls in $1.35 billion per year in its current 2011-2013 deal. The new deal, set to be auctioned in the coming months, is expected to rival the NFL’s. A billion more is also being spent by Fox/Telemundo to air only 128 matches between World Cup 2018 and 2022. Combined, that’s pretty damn comparable to most US sports. And last time I checked, I don’t see poker having three English-language channels in the US devoted completely to its coverage.

      Secondly, though there were 70 some odd people watching the women’s World Cup final at that “middle of nowhere” bar in Ohio, I never implied that meant all Americans understand soccer. All I was implying was that there were 70 knowledgeable people watching the match, an impressive number in a smallish city such as Dayton. Furthermore, your saying that large markets “do not give a shit” about soccer in the US is both naive and ignorant. I dare you to venture to traditional “soccer bars” such as Nevada Smith’s in NYC, The Globe in Chicago, or even Molly Malone’s here in Cincinnati during the Euros… each had 500+ showing up for World Cup matches in 2010.

      As for the diving issues and bad refereeing, I straight admitted that those were problems in my post itself. The examples I provided for rough play are far from rare — which suggests you probably don’t follow the sport that closely — and those from the other sports simply illustrate that soccer’s not the only sport where it happens. Maybe it’s less impactful, but it still happens.

      Look, I don’t know why this article rubbed you the wrong way. But keep in mind that your hit was just the 60th unique hit this articles ever received, so I’ve hardly received any “personal gain” from it like you’ve claimed. All in all, my counters to Mr. Toback were all backed up by facts… hence all of the inter-dispersed links. Unlike your response to me, however, that lacks any proof what-so-ever. So if you’re going to sit there on your high horse and call me an idiot, a buffoon and uninformed, maybe you ought to take some advice of your own.

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    Like

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