- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 13, 2002

I promise this is the last time I will take on the soccer bashers.

I know I should turn the other cheek, but last week on the Commentary pages of this newspaper, soccer got mauled in a nasty way.

Raymond Keating's piece, entitled, "Kicking the soccer habit: Sport suspiciously resembles socialism," represented a new low in the continuous attack on the game that billions of people around the world and in America love.

Keating said soccer is a slow, tedious, boring game, played by socialist-leaning lefties and simpletons the world over. America is right to ignore soccer because the rest of the world is just dead wrong, he said. The 1.5billion people who tuned in to watch the World Cup final just don't get it. Period.

"Can the rest of the world be wrong about soccer? Of course they can, and they are."

Whoa, Raymond can't we all just get along.

I'm baffled why so many American columnists feel it's their God-given obligation to trash soccer every time the World Cup comes around. I doubt that Bolivian, Bulgarian or British pundits are wasting their time bashing baseball.

It seems that in the last six weeks, every newspaper and magazine I've picked up, from the Wall Street Journal to Time, has churned out an anti-soccer tirade. It gets a little tedious reading the same old lines.

Why do they do it? Why the paranoia over soccer? Are these people insecure, jealous or just plain envious? Has my whole life been meaningless? Steady on, John.

Of course, soccer is an easy target to knock. Critics think only the powerless immigrants and children play the game, so who's going to complain. And its red meat for Joe Sixpack, who will love you for kicking that "un-American sport" played by foreigners in silly shorts.

Keating deserves credit for at least making the effort to watch a number of World Cup games and proudly noted that he had even read up on the game in the encyclopedia. But instead of humbly meditating on his newfound understanding, Keating comes screaming down the mountain as if he's suddenly received a revelation from on high why Americans hate the game which of course they don't, because 13million actually play soccer in this country.

I wouldn't dare strike a blow against baseball, and I've trekked off to Camden Yards a number of times.

Why? Because I know millions love America's "national pastime," so obviously there's something to this unique and wonderful game. There are many things about baseball I fail to understand, but I'm not going to trash the sport and then flee the country. After all, my wife was the captain of her high school softball team, and my daughter seems to be following in her footsteps.

Keating, a conservative writer, who is pretty good when he's writing about Social Security, says soccer has no speed and proceeds "at a glacial pace." Can you believe this? What World Cup did he watch? The chess finals?

Soccer is slow? I guess that's why soccer players all weigh over 300 pounds, are fat and flabby and chew tobacco. At 90 minutes a game, soccer must be just too long for some, compared to baseball games and football games that run an average of 180 minutes between the beer commercials. Speedy American striker Landon Donovan obviously needs to get back on the treadmill. He only runs about six miles in a regular game.

Golf and baseball may be slow games, Keating admits, but at least they are "thinking man's" games. "Soccer is not much of a mental game at all," he says, and that is why it's "so widely played by children" in America.

Gee, I didn't realize you needed a high IQ. to play golf or a Ph.D. to play baseball. Hitting small balls with clubs and bats must be rocket science after all.

Yep, I suppose coach Bruce Arena, who graduated from Cornell University and led the Americans to the quarterfinals of the World Cup, did it all by magic no brains needed at all.

These attacks on soccer don't help in the long run. Americans need not worry. Soccer isn't going to cause the elimination of baseball, basketball or football. The game just wants a seat at the table and a little respect.

I know it sounds a trite, but in these difficult times an understanding of soccer can help America, while attacking the game only divides the country from the rest of the world.

Conservative writer Andrew Sullivan put it best in the London Times:

"But this exceptionalism [regarding soccer] is also why the bafflement between Americans and everyone else is real and difficult and sometimes dangerously close to chronic misunderstanding. [Soccer] both divides the world into ferocious nationalisms and also unites peoples. America is not a part of that cultural, emotional unification, an enterprise that genuinely does bring together the boy in Tehran and the teen-ager in Glasgow or Buenos Aires."


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