Monday, February 23, 2009

Why, oh why, do they hate us so?



Kartik Krishnaiyer on the Major League Soccer Talk blog has published a very interesting screed on the hatred directed at footy from American sports commentators and publishers. (Read the story here.)

Recently, Fox News in particular has been particularly hateful, airing two different attacks on the beautiful game, specifically the American 2018/22 World Cup bids and in an immigrant-bashing way trying to draw some sort of forced connection between soccer and terrorism. I won't bother repeating the attacks. You can see them here.

Krishnaiyer makes some very cogent points, though to be fair I do think he does at times lapse into clear frustration and reverse finger-pointing, especially at the expense of American football. Among what I think are his best points are these:

That the Rupert Murdoch owned Fox News Channel would take on football and link it with terrorism is no surprise. The network in the past have exaggerated just about every hooligan incident abroad and had news anchors who were simply masked social commentators make statements like “this is reason 10,000 why soccer will never succeed in America,” or ” Europeans behaving badly.” Some commentators on the channel have even used a fear of the game to rile up xenophobic sentiment against Mexicans and other Latins in the US, claiming if we do not stem immigration, Soccer (again the term they choose to use, but I rarely if ever use: the proper term is Football) will eclipse Baseball as the national pastime.

And this one:

The irony is that FOX is owned by the very same man whose brainchild the English Premier League, has helped turned formally football adverse countries like India and China into football mad nations. SKY Sports made the Premiership into the world’s leading sports brand name. Murdoch has even taken advantage of the passion for football in nations such as Mexico (the country whose citizens FOX News commentators ironically fear most) by pushing his Innova satellite TV system which gives Mexicans more football viewing options than ever before. As more football has become available on Mexican TV, more domestic based FMF players have sought transfers to European clubs.


And this one:

Many sportswriters in the US are not only lacking intellectual curiosity about the outside world, but like their conservative brethren they will promote international events only when the United States is winning. Case in point: does anyone outside the US, or the handful of totalitarian regimes that exploit athletes for political purposes really believe the Olympics are a bigger sporting event than the FIFA World Cup? Are the Olympics a bigger event than the regional Euro finals, or Copa America? Are they even bigger internationally than the UEFA Champions League finals.

Why is it that Olympic Football doesn’t get the attention in the United States that Olympic Swimming or Olympic Track and Field does? Is it because those sports are more popular than football in the states, given that almost 12 million people in the US watched the most recent US National Team World Cup qualifier, while the aforementioned sports never get that sort of viewership outside the Olympics? Clearly that is not the case. It is simple: American success determines media coverage and the “worldwide importance” of an event.


Now clearly a conundrum of sorts is set up here. If American media outlets will only cover sports (Krishnaiyer insists that the proper term is Football, and will only use that. But I think that's one instance where he gets a mite carried away.) that Americans are winning, then will they cover soccer if the Americans win?

My feeling is that the answer is only grudgingly so, and that the Americans will have to keep winning and winning and winning to get any respect at all. Now, this is one area in which us Dynamo-followers are perhaps more fortunate than others in that the local media coverage here, both professional and amateur, is easily the tops in MLS, a point which Fearless Leader V of Dynamo Planet has made repeatedly. No MLS team gets this kind of support from so many different sources, though there are some teams that are well-supported.

Krishnaiyer makes multiple, and pointed, comparisons between soccer and American football, frequently pulling down the latter as unintelligent, nativist and anti-intellectual (though giving a nod to Florida head coach Urban Meyer as an "intellectual."). That brings up my all-time favorite point comparing these two sports, that Jamie Trecker makes in his book Love and Blood (Not read it? Do so, and before the next World Cup if you can.) Trecker says that NFL people all speak glowingly and with awe about worldwide Super Bowl viewership numbers being around 1 billion people, a number he
points out is about the same as tune in to the World Cup draw.

My attitude on this whole football v. football argument is that, as far as I'm concerned, Sports is Sports. They're all good. They're all fun. I enjoy some more than others, and clearly prefer football/futbol/soccer (Thank you, MLS marketing dudes). NONE is morally superior to any other. And if you stick my home town's name on your jersey, I'll root for you.

Still Krishnaiyer's piece puts a spotlight on this whole "attack soccer" phenomenon in the American media. Fellow Nutmegger Playtherapy's wife, who hails from Ireland, was struck dumb/flat out mystified that in the US soccer fandom or indeed playing the game is seen as synonymous with homosexuality. Now personally, I have never encountered this, but when i was a kid, my basketball-enjoying dad, taking me to see an old NASL Houston Hurricane game, said he found it hard to respect a sport where players ran around in shorts. I'm still struck by that irony.

Also, if you want to purchase that T-shirt design up top, check out this site here: http://www.zazzle.com/mlsrshop/find/qs-terrorist/sd-desc/st-popularity

What do you think about Krishnaiyer's article in particular and the issue of attack journalism aimed at soccer as a whole?

3 comments:

playtherapy said...

Interesting post.

The Fox Network is catering to their audience, typically xenophobic Joe the Plumber types or the wealthy who often only go to sources of information that agree with their worldviews. Even considering the Murdoch owned Sky TV tie in, Fox is doing what it does best- shaping its message to fit its target audience.

What makes this more ironic is that many hooligan groups abroad embrace fascist philosophies and encourage racism. The incidents of violence are usually between extremist groups or one of those groups targeting innocent fans.

Fox would have it that it’s just those ‘crazy foreigners’. Not so. The violence is perpetuated by groups whose credos are similar to what Fox is saying. Fox implies soccer is the sport of terrorists or illegal immigrants. Ultras or right wing hooligans make similar assertions- just sans the soccer. These are the people doing fascist or Nazi salutes at games or making monkey noises to black players.

Soccer probably is the sport of many foreign terrorists as it is the most popular sport in the world. If Jesus were alive today, perhaps he would be a footy fanatic. Or Confucius, Mohammed, the list goes on and on. Buddha and Gandhi might be footy or cricket fans. This reminds me of the Python skit of the match between the Greek and German philosophers.

I don’t remember where I read this, but I believe the Cuban Missile Crisis began because our spy planes potted soccer fields at a Cuban military base before the Cubans really played which led us to suspect a Soviet presence. Soccer = bad guys.

This notion precedes this- as our nation grew, soccer was the sport of the ethnic communities, the old country, those who hadn’t assimilated. Think the nationalism of the Gangs of New York.

We need to grow up and join the world. Soccer is not an entangling alliance. It is a way to bridge cultural gaps. Football is a universal language. If we become masterfully fluent rather than merely proficient, we will be better for it.

As far as violence in sports:
•In 1951, Heisman trophy candidate Johnny Bright, from Drake University, was slugged by Wilbanks Smith, from Oklahoma A&M, during an A&M home football game. Bright suffered a broken jaw in what many viewed as a racially motivated attack.
•In 1972, Ohio State University was leading the University of Minnesota 50-44 with 36 seconds left to play in the basketball game. Ohio State's Luke Witte was fouled hard going to the basket. Minnesota’s Corky Taylor punched the dazed Witte in the head and kneed him in the groin. Gopher reserve Ron Behagen then stomped Witte on the neck and head. Witte was taken off the court on a stretcher and b Kermit Washington's punch of Rudy Tomjanovich during an NBA game.
•Tonya Harding's attack on Nancy Kerrigan.
•Mike Tyson biting Evander Holyfield's ear during their rematch.
•On March 26, 1997, Fight Night at the Joe, a brawl between the Red Wings and Avs. Retaliation by the Wings for a dirty hit by Claude Lemieux a year earlier. A total of 46 penalties in the game.
•On 16 December 2006 the NBA's leading scorer, Carmelo Anthony was involved in a large brawl in which ten players from the New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets (including Anthony) were ejected.
•The Pacers–Pistons brawl would not be the last major brawl at The Palace of Auburn Hills. On July 21, 2008, during a WNBA game between the Detroit Shock and Los Angeles Sparks, a confrontation between the Shock's Plenette Pierson and the Sparks' Candace Parker turned into a bench-clearing brawl (this time, no spectators were involved). Five players from each team drew suspensions of one to four games for their involvement in the melee; Shock coach Rick Mahorn was suspended for two games for escalating the battle; and Shock star center Cheryl Ford was lost for the season with a torn ACL suffered when she tried to restrain one of her teammates.
•On 16 December 2006 the NBA's leading scorer, Carmelo Anthony was involved in a large brawl in which ten players from the New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets (including Anthony) were ejected.
•The Pacers–Pistons brawl would not be the last major brawl at The Palace of Auburn Hills. On July 21, 2008, during a WNBA game between the Detroit Shock and Los Angeles Sparks, a confrontation between the Shock's Plenette Pierson and the Sparks' Candace Parker turned into a bench-clearing brawl (this time, no spectators were involved). Five players from each team drew suspensions of one to four games for their involvement in the melee; Shock coach Rick Mahorn was suspended for two games for escalating the battle; and Shock star center Cheryl Ford was lost for the season with a torn ACL suffered when she tried to restrain one of her teammates.
•In 1984, violence erupted outside of Tiger Stadium in Detroit after the Detroit Tigers defeated the San Diego Padres in the World Series. A well known photo from the riot shows a Tigers fan holding a World Series pennant in front of an overturned burning Detroit Police car.
•In 1992, the Chicago Bulls won the NBA Title and rioting ensued during victory celebrations. Over 1000 were arrested.
•In 1994, Vancouver Canucks fans rioted in the streets of Vancouver after their team lost in the Stanley Cup finals.
•In 1998, Denver Broncos fans rioted in the streets of Denver after their team won Super Bowl XXXII. Near-riots happened when the team won the Super Bowl again the following year and after the Colorado Avalanche's Stanley Cup wins in 1996 and 2001.
•In June 2000, Los Angeles Lakers fans stormed the streets of Los Angeles after the Lakers victory over the Indiana Pacers in the 2000NBA Finals. Fans briefly celebrated by starting bonfires, it sooned turned into a riot, with fans dancing and stomping on parked cars, and even turning a news van over.
•In October 2004, fans of the Boston Red Sox rioted just outside of Fenway Park after the Red Sox won the American League Championship Series over the New York Yankees. Police used "pepper guns" in some cases and an Emerson College student, Victoria Snelgrove, was killed by a beanbag projectile which hit her in the temple.
•On November 19, 2004, near the end of an NBA game between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons, a brawl erupted between Pacers players and Pistons supporters.
•In 2000, hockey dad Thomas Junta of Reading, Massachusetts, was watching his 10 year old son at a summer ice hockey practice. Concerned about aggressive play, he yelled at coach Michael Costin of Lynnfield, Massachusetts. A fight ensued, spilling into the hallway. Junta, who was 100 pounds (45 kg) heavier, repeatedly punched Costin in the face, while holding him down with a knee to the chest. Junta's sons begged him to stop and another adult broke up the fight, but Costin died. Junta was later handed a six-to-10-year sentence for manslaughter.

Not just soccer…

Martek said...

PT, you are right on the money. Attacks like Fox News' tell far more about the attackers than about the focus of the attacks. That's for sure.

To be sure, the class and political and sectarian element to soccer violence is not something you see in the US. We just justify our violence in many other ways.

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