Speculative Spectating

Our Committed Coverage Of The Least-Watched Sport In The Nation Continues.

By Jeff Smith

THE OTHER MORNING after SportsCenter ran for the third time, they cut away to some big sporty thing that's real popular in the Third World...futbol, I think they call it.

Smith I rolled over and cast one bleary eye on the tube and there were all these hysterics in short pants running around this pasture, to no apparent purpose. Oddly enough they all appeared to be wearing what I have seen advertised in Land's End catalogues as rugby shirts. Could this be rugby, I wondered?

Actually, not. They broke for commercial and the voice-over intoned, "World Cup soccer will return in a moment."

So this is what all the fuss is about. This is the world's most popular spectator sport. This is what a generation of women-in-Volvos are spending their every free moment enslaved to. I couldn't see it. Rummaging through the clutter of sheets, dirty clothes and old gun magazines for the remote, I switched to CNN to find a world with which I was more comfortable...

...and in France, 30,000 soccer fans rioted yesterday, injuring 32 policemen, one critically....

Marvelous. From the dribs and drabs of commentary I'd already picked up, I knew that the game on the air was Brazil v. Scotland in the opening match of the Cup. Ergo the preceding day's riot happened before any actual soccer actually had happened. And they call us Americans a mindless and violent race.

As a student of human behavior and a professional journalist, I've paid sufficient attention to the soccer phenomenon to be aware that wogs in unpronounceable places go absolutely mental when their lads in lingerie play against the neighboring nation's lads in lingerie, and that quite often when the match concludes, one side or the other will stampede and trample fans, in their tens of thousands, to death. It may be disgruntled losers, whose sense of national pride is offended, who go to running around randomly in emulation of their heroes on the field; or it may be gruntled winners. It doesn't much matter, the net result is the same: 200,000 madmen cleansed by mob catharsis, and a couple dozen less-fortunate stomped to death like road-killed kitties.

And they call this "the beautiful game." Yeah, right.

Three years ago they held the World Cup in the U.S. of A. The TV networks decided that, like the metric system, soccer's time in the land of the free and the home of the late John Wayne had arrived. Now was the moment for America to take its rightful place among the more civilized nations. After interminable weeks of watching short, swarthy men-children milling around at hyperkinetic pace, of hearing breathless, emotional sportscasters named Nigel gush about the significance of Camaroon's bitter rivalry with Goa, two national teams emerged from the pack to contest the championship.

The game ended in a zero-zero tie, yet somehow one team was determined to have bested the other.

"That's it," said I, "this is never going to sell in the United States."

And I'm right. Notwithstanding the army of soccer moms and dads whose weekends and vacations, whose savings accounts and IRAs are earmarked for their heirs' soccer careers, the Real America, the America of my youth, the America of sainted memory, of beer commercials and sacked-out couches that fit the fat end of America's fathers will never embrace futbol in preference to football. It's just way too Zen.

Zip-zip tie? Pardon me all to hell, but Americans want numbers. Multiples of a hundred where feasible. That's why basketball is supplanting baseball and even football in the hearts of the nation's sports fans and the bottom lines of the TV network bean-counters. That why hockey, violent and fast-moving as it is, never has appealed to real Americans the way it does with Canadians.

I think the flirtation that prosperous yuppie parents are presently having with soccer fits in with the rest of this execrable phenomenon of political correctness. Politically correct Americans today positively love scourging their own flesh with guilt over all the success our country has enjoyed on the global political stage, and all the rowdy fun we've had at home. So instead of taking Junior to a Little League baseball game and teaching him how to chew tobacco, spit, and then wash his mouth out with cold beer after the game, Dad packs the lad in the minivan, drives him to a soccer game, tells him afterward that it's not about winning, it's about teamwork and aerobics, and takes him to the salad bar at Wendy's on the way home. We can only pray that this aberration will soon pass.

My best friend from two decades ago grew up in America the way God intended. He ate steroids, drank Pabst Blue Ribbon, smoked Kools and beat up other guys in bars. He went to college on a football scholarship. When he needed to unwind, he shot heroin. I had every reason to assume, when his son was born, that the kid would have every advantage his father had enjoyed as he grew up.

But no. I should have been warned when my buddy skipped the annual motorcycle ride to Ruidoso to be at home two weeks ahead of the kid's due date. When the baby was 2 years old, they bought him a $500 mattress so firm a sumo wrestler couldn't have made an impression on it. They wouldn't let the kid have sugar or Cokes. They made him eat vegetables.

And when he got old enough to play outside with the other kids in neighborhood, it wasn't the other kids in the neighborhood his folks let him play with: It was kids from the foothills whose folks wanted them to play soccer, so they could be more like kids from France.


The boy's coming on high-school age now, so his soccer days are running out. Surely he'll have to quit before he graduates from college. Won't he? But his father is prepared for this.

He just bought the kid a set of golf clubs. TW

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