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Why Don’t Americans Appreciate ‘Football’?

By Yong-yi Zhu

COLUMNIST

What do I love? Do I love my girlfriend? Do I love ESPN? Do I love my conditioner? All I know is the world, sans the United States of America, loves the sport of soccer. At least, soccer is what we Americans term it; the rest of the universe knows it as football.

Doesn’t the word football make sense? After all, you do play the game with your feet and a ball. Soccer has origins from all over the world. Its beginnings range from Egypt where it was a part of a religious ceremony, to China where the sport was used for military training, to Central America and North America, where it takes the closest form of what it current is. In fact, soccer now is so easy to play that all you need is a ball and a couple of people. Many children in the United States play soccer. After all, the number of kids that played had to be high enough so that the word “soccer mom” could be invented. We don’t hear of “football moms” or “little league moms,” right?

So then, why does the rest of the world watch soccer like a religion, while we pay as little attention to it as most pretty girls pay to me? Take the most outrageous example. To the rest of the world, David Beckham is a god. After his marriage to Posh Spice, Beckham’s popularity has perhaps matched that of Muhammed Ali. Just flipping through any soccer magazine, one can find at least a dozen references to the man and at least a half dozen photos. In fact, he has even posed for a magazine for homosexual men, despite being happily married to Victoria Beckham. His sale this summer from Manchester United to Real Madrid sparked many to phone in protests on the British side, because they feel as though they are losing an icon to a foreign country; it’s almost as if the Beatles suddenly became Spanish.

However, if Beckham were to walk around New York City, the majority of the people would have no clue who the man is. One might say the same for Figo, Zidane, or any of the other superstars of soccer, even though they are the equivalents of Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods.

Take another example of sports broadcasting. When you watch ESPN, what do you see as a headline? “Bonds hit 73rd home run!” Or “Redskins hire Joe Gibbs!” Or “Spurs win NBA title!” Never has anyone heard the headline: “FC Barcelona edges Real Madrid!” on ESPN.

In fact, several weeks ago, I heard a radio show by Dan LeBatard where he said that he went to a soccer game, and they scored as many goals as if he didn’t show up, therefore the sport is a waste of his time. In China, just as an example, things are completely the reverse. I watched a half-hour long sports program once and it featured five minutes of volleyball, 23 minutes of soccer, one minute of Yao Ming, and a minute for everything else sports related. It’s such a complete 180 from the world that we are used to.

Perhaps the reason for this is that we are fundamentally different from other countries in many areas. Our country’s wealth is different from many others; therefore, we may take a liking to the sports that require more wealth to play. Soccer, as I had said before, is simple, while every other sport needs more equipment or more people.

We are also rather elitist. If we are not the best at something, usually, there is a small fan base for it. Soccer is just that; all the great players are foreign.

With all those theories, I got a little more down to Earth: I asked a friend of mine why she played soccer. Her answer was that she wanted more than just the running she was getting from track, and the ball handling practice drew her to it. To her, it was merely a ball handling exercise.

The answer was very logical, yet it lacked passion. Perhaps if more Americans thought logically, they would find soccer to be a great sport technique-wise. However most Americans merely go with whatever is fun or cool, and the flashy dunks of the NBA and the glamorous home runs of the MLB attract more people than a simple ball in a net.

Perhaps soccer’s simplicity has brought its demise to itself in the American society. Or perhaps we’re simply not culturally in tune with the rest of the world. Whatever the difference, I’ll always respect it. I at least owe that much to the world’s greatest love.