As the World Cup in Brazil nears, talk in the U.S. once again roils over whether or not Futbol (soccer) should even be considered a real sport or not. There are plenty of comments on various websites–including the hallowed ESPN and Sports Illustrated–from Americans who are quick to chastise soccer as not being a “real” sport or as being boring.
Here’s a couple examples from comments to articles regarding the 2014 World Cup:
I don’t know how anyone can sit and watch something like soccer. Oh wow we won 1 to 0. Don’t even consider soccer a sport.(Source: AOL)
A beautiful game? There’s nothing beautiful about watching guys kick a ball out of bounds every five seconds for three hours just to have the game end 0-0. (Source: CNN)
So, what is “America’s Sport?” The world loves soccer. That’s fine. India and Pakistan love cricket. That’s wonderful. Australia has their version of football. Table tennis is big in China. But what sport truly defines America? Many poets have opined that baseball is America’s pastime. Walt Whitman said of baseball, “”[I]t’s our game; that’s the chief fact in connection with it: America’s game; it has the snap, go, fling of the American atmosphere; it belongs as much to our institutions, fits into them as significantly as our Constitution’s laws; is just as important in the sum total of our historic life.” And then, of course, you have James Earl Jones’ monologue from Field of Dreams: “The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past….”
There was probably a time when Whitman’s ideal of baseball in harmony with America’s “snap, go, fling” but that has faded. Whitman’s America of the late 1800s was a dynamic time where people believed that if they worked hard they’d go far in life. Over time, America has wavered from that ethos of work. And that’s why American football is truly America’s sport.
1. Work less get paid more
The average soccer player will run nearly seven miles in a match and play for ninety minutes, whereas the average football player will run less than a mile and play maybe six minutes a game (the average amount of time the ball is in play during an NFL game is eleven minutes, but players only play either offense or defense which cuts the time in half). It would appear in this case that soccer players “work” harder than football players. That’s not quite in our ethos as Americans. According to a Pew Research poll conducted in 2012, 45% of Americans who identified themselves as “lower class” do not believe that hard work will increase their chances of success in life (the numbers for “middle” class and “upper” class with this belief are 29% and 27% respectively). What is more striking is that 39% of 18-29 year olds identify themselves as “lower class”. Over a third of Americans who should be bombarding the workforce with hard workers, yet they don’t see hard work as an option. (As an aside, 77% of these 18-29 year olds have “some college” or less for an education. You might see where their pessimism comes in… why work hard in a menial job?). That means that nearly half of Americans identify with these football players. They hardly “work” but still make good money. And, as absurd as this may seem, there are thirty-five states where being on some form of welfare pays better than obtaining a minimum wage job. Why would a mother in Pennsylvania making $29,000 a year with two children want to get a better job? Including her welfare benefits she will bring in a combined income of nearly $58,000. If she works a little harder an earns a $1000 raise, she will lose out on nearly $30,000 in welfare aid. (Source: Townhall)
And before comments come through about the rigors of being an NFL player (practice, being away from home, etc.) I am simply looking at the time they clock for their work. They are exceptionally part-time employees and still make over $500,000 a year. This is the new America: Work the bare-minimum and reap massive rewards.
2. Crass consumerism
If you had any doubts about American consumerism, just look to the iPhone. A new version comes out each year and millions are sold primarily to customers who already have a perfectly working phone. Society says “spend!” and we do. Fortunately for us Americans, football caters to our need for want and stuff. In an average football game there are just over sixty minutes of commercials. Think about that for a second. There is as much time for commercials as there is for the actual game clock–four fifteen-minute quarters. That’s 120 commercials. Allow that half of those commercials are repeats and that means were are watching advertisements for sixty products and television shows. That’s why we can’t watch soccer–forty-five minute halves with no commercial interruptions. How in the world would we know what we are missing?
3. Health doesn’t matter
Recently, FLOTUS Michelle Obama came out and defended her school lunch programs against critics (Read here from HuffingtonPost). As well she should. We are a big country, and I don’t just mean in land mass. We are big people. According to the CDC, 67% of all Americans over 20 are overweight–this number includes those who are obese. Just over a third of Americans–35%–are obese. But we really don’t do anything about it. 8 out of 10 Americans would agree that exercise has a positive impact on a long, healthy life, but only 28% of us actually do something about it. When we watch television, we are bombarded by body types that are unattainable without a knife, a vacuum, and Photoshop. Football makes us feel better about ourselves. We watch three-hundred pound linemen huff and puff for six minutes and we immediately feel better about our own weight issues. Who wants to watch twenty-two skinny men run around on a field for ninety minutes? No, give us a collection of overweight men that we can identify with. And that they earn millions being overweight makes it even better.
4. Short-term memory
Huh? Just a refresher, we are talking here about futbol. Or was that football? I don’t remember. Hamburgers!
In the days before computers, before encyclopedias, before massive libraries, mankind had to remember things. No. Seriously. We had to remember stupid things like our Social Security number, phone numbers, and the dates of our spouse’s birth and our anniversary. Today, we have no need to commit these things to memory. Psychologists call this the “google effect”. We don’t need to memorize things anymore. Facebook will remind us of birthdays. Our computers will auto fill phone numbers and addresses. We don’t even need to worry about how to spell since our phones will ask, “Did you mean yaddayadda?” when it doesn’t recognize our crude attempts at spelling words. I can just look it up. We are willing to accept that the things we might need to remember are stored for us in a large server farm in Utah. And so we’ve developed painfully bad memories. Thankfully, football, again, assists us with this. Even with eleven minutes of actual game play, the networks have made sure that we don’t even need to pay attention to that. We’ve got 17 minutes of replays for those times when you couldn’t quite grasp the last four seconds of play. Striking that there is more airtime for replays then the game is actually played. And then, because we can’t be asked to focus on anything for too long, we can indulge in over an hour of men standing around. Football caters to our lazy brains.