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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.