Wednesday, September 17, 2003

And what about Lacrosse?: The hue and cry over the unpopularity (at the professional/t.v.-watching level) of soccer in the USA reaches a fever pitch about every four years (usually and not coincidentally with the arrival of the World Cup on the scene). Part of the whining makes sense: youth soccer is wildly popular, so most figure that when these kids grow up, they'd really like to watch the pros play (maybe even play themselves). Moreover, collegiate level soccer is fairly healthy, although you don't see it on prime-time. And that, dear readers, may be the chicken/egg question. Is it not popular because it's not on t.v. or vice-versa?

You can't argue that soccer hasn't been around long enough, as it was surely played before baseball or basketball was even invented. But you can argue that a) it's not exciting enough; b) the field is too crowded (pardon the pun) in the world of American pro sports; and c) it doesn't have the storied history of the other sports in this country necessary to have taken it to the next level. Point (a) will never stop being debated among soccer afficionados, but when most games are 1-0, 2-1, maybe 3-2, it's just not enough to keep our attention spans going. Yes, baseball games often end up 1-0, 2-1; but you know that within a couple of days, you're going to see a 14-8 barrage. Point (b) sort of puts the rabbit in the hat, because we're talking why wasn't soccer popular enough before the other sports arrived (but it does answer why they can't get leagues going today). Point (c) can be used in the sense that with football, you have the storied Yale/Harvard games, with those grads probably ending up in high-level government and business positions, so there was a gravitation towards expanding the support with the money/influence to make it work. Plus colleges quickly turned the sport into billion-dollar businesses. Baseball is just our tradition - the myths behind this sport are not matched by any other.

However, I might also suggest a (d): black kids don't play it (here). Look at our top three sports - football, baseball and basketball. Each is dominated by black players (baseball may be a bit more equalized). Hockey has almost no black players and is routinely thrashed by PGA events when televised (hell, re-runs of Seinfeld probably do more business). Is there a causal connection or just a correlation? Well, I'm no sociologist, but I'd start there. Chances are soccer was played just about exclusively by european immigrants in this country at the beginning - and we all know how happy they were to invite non-members into the fold. But with baseball, you had the negro leagues, right alongside MLB, until the establishment woke up. Basketball was a natural because it required less space and therefore would attract more urban players. Football may be more of a conundrum, but it's clear that it with the college powerhouses looking for great players, and offering scholarships to boot, it was only a matter of a few years before black players took to the sport in droves. Now, try to get a soccer scholarship. Oh, and what do you do with those precious skills once and if you graduate? The Europeans aren't exactly bashing down the doors to get U.S. players - this young boy being the exception, and possibly a wave of things to come. Tiger Woods may be the test - can one shining example set the sport on fire nation-wide among similarly-situated mnorities (remembering, for a moment, that Tiger is more Thai than black).

No comments: