- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 11, 2001

Just when you thought the soccer-bashers had gone underground following the lovefest after Brandi Chastain's antics at the 1999 Women's World Cup, along comes Frank Deford's savage attack on the game in Sports Illustrated ("Not Our Cup of Tea," July 2 issue).
In Deford's article a laundry list of why Americans will never embrace soccer the author has the audacity to write that soccer has no grace. Such a statement is akin to saying that Rudolf Nureyev couldn't dance and Dan Marino had a lousy arm.
Deford implicitly suggests that billions of people in the world who appreciate what Pele once called "the beautiful game," have bad taste.
Obviously Deford has never seen Marcelo Balboa's acrobatic bicycle kick or witnessed Gordon Banks' agile save from Pele's header at the 1970 World Cup.
But Deford doesn't stop there he has the nerve to say that soccer is "awkward."
"You can't sweetly control a ball using feet and head any more than you can drive a fast car with your nose and knees," Deford writes. "We value efficiency in the United States. Soccer is inefficient."
Where has this guy been? Soccer players can make a ball do amazing things with their feet and head.
Diego Maradona wove past six English players with the ball at his feet to score a brilliant goal at the 1986 World Cup with such artistry and ease that even Michael Jordan would blush with envy. The diving header takes time to perfect, but there's nothing awkward about it. Far from being awkward, soccer at its best is pure art.
What is baffling is why certain sportswriters feel it's their obligation to come out of their caves every now and then and lead a campaign against soccer.
Your Joe Sixpack, who would probably have trouble finding Brazil on the world map, can be forgiven for making such statements about soccer, but for a famous sportswriter to utter such absurdities is purely provocative.
I was not raised in America, but I've come to appreciate many American sports, from baseball to rodeo. If millions of people follow a sport, surely the mission of a sportswriter is to challenge his prejudices and seek to understand what makes the sport appealing to people.
After surviving a batting cage, I came to appreciate what Cal Ripken faces each night at the plate. So why can't the soccer-bashers do a little prospecting to understand why over a billion people will tune into watch the World Cup next year?
Deford says that soccer is "un-American" read foreign. Soccer enthusiasts to him are intruders a bad influence. There's more than a whiff of xenophobia about Deford's scribbling.
Does this mean that all those kids that crowd the soccer fields in Fairfax and Columbia, Md., every weekend are unpatriotic or subversive? Could Deford be just a little bit upset that soccer teams are beginning to outnumber Little League clubs in suburban America? Doesn't he realize that soccer is becoming as American as hot dogs and apple pie?
Sports agent David Falk once said soccer "is like a symphony, complex with lots of nuances." Deford would shriek at such a notion. Any sport in which you head a ball is "neither graceful nor nuanced," he writes.
Let's face it, Deford hates the game and hate, in all its forms, blinds rationality and understanding.
The only good thing that Deford says about soccer, while holding his nose, is that it's "terrific exercise as good as tai chi." Thanks for the sarcasm, Frank. Using Deford's logic, RFK Stadium is sold out for the U.S. team's World Cup qualifier Sept. 1 because 56,000 fans are willing to shell out $40 to $80 to watch a fancy aerobics class.
Deford's piece reminds me of the time I naively called the editor of the Sporting News, John Rawlings, in 1994 and asked him if the magazine might cover the World Cup which was being hosted that year by the United States.
"If we devoted a page to soccer at the expense of baseball and football, we would be offending our readers," Rawlings said.
Silly me I thought the magazine was about sports.
Sadly, the soccer-bashers just can't gut the fact that America didn't create the most popular sport in the world that's 'world,' Frank, as in the globe, the planet earth not 'world' as in World Series.
It might be worthwhile if Deford checked out why his bosses at Time Warner operate two teams in the Women's United Soccer Association.

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