Why Football (not Futbol) Is America’s Sport

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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)

 

World Map Based on Most Popular Sport

World Map Based on Most Popular Sport

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; it1433_2 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.

Here’s why:

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 i3OtXskAmericans, 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

sports7Recently, 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.

 

ACLU To Sue “Catholic 7” Before The First Basketball Drops

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New York–On behalf the NeoPaganist Little People of America (NPLPA), the ACLU has filed a class action lawsuit against the “Catholic Seven” schools, which will separate from the Big East athletic conference on June 30th. In the filing, the ACLU claims that by forming a Catholic schools basketball league the universities involved are discriminating against institutions that promote other religious, or no religious, affiliations. “The formation of this new league is a clear promotion of religion,” Desire Minter of the ACLU said. “The Catholic Church isn’t some high and mighty organization that can do as it pleases.” The filing cites emotional damage to the members of the NPLPA, and is seeking five million dollars from each college in the settlement. “How dare they exclude us just because we practice Neopaganism,” William Mullins, spokesperson for the NPLPA, said. “Religion should be a family practice, something that his closely held and universities, whether public or private, have no business promoting one specific belief.” Sarah Eaton, legal council for St. John’s University expressed amazement that this case was going forward. “We, at St. John’s, feel that despite our desire to form a conference with the six other Catholic Universities there are plenty of other opportunities for those who do not practice Catholicism to attend a great university of their choice. We are hopeful that his case gets thrown out.” Minter doesn’t share Eaton’s hopes. “Separation of church and state are essential to the right function of this nation. The Catholic Seven will have to pay for their sins.”

The Sporting Nature of Politics

In the world of sports fandom, there are millions of reasons to watch and follow. The biggest reason, of course, is picking a team that best represents us. We do this in many ways: regionally, socially, familial. By picking a side, we also adopt the colors, the mythos, and we engage in and perpetuate a hatred for the opposition.

With so many people bleeding the colors of their favorite teams, raising their children to be fanatics themselves, it got me thinking: Could this be true of the current major political parties?

Are parents raising good little Democrats? Republicans?

Do we cheer for our parties just because we belong to them?

Sporting motifs have crept into the lexicon of politics: Political pep ralliescheering on our candidates, the candidates are giving it a full court press, throwing one’s hat in the ring (boxing circa 1900). When President Obama accepted his party’s nomination in 2008, it was on the turf of Sports Authority Field at Mile High, home of the Denver Broncos.

Are American politics becoming more of a sporting culture than a political one?

In order to work this out, let’s look at some of the major athletic rivalries around the world, and compare their basis for antagonism with our current political climate.

Political Philosophy and Class

El Clásico— FC Barcelona vs. Real Madrid (Soccer)

The hatred between these two sporting fans goes back to 1936. Though, if you ask a Barça and a resident of Madrid, it goes back even further. During Francisco Franco’s Civil War, he attempted to purge any form of nationalism that spurned his Spanish utopia. Caught in the wake was Barcelona. Staunchly Catalan and the birthplace of almost all of Spain’s political ideologies, Franco did what he could to tear down Barcelona. This included its fabled football team. Real Madrid was seen as Franco’s pet. For the Catalonians FC Barcelona football heroes are also political heroes. This includes the former president of the club, Josep Sunyol, who was arrested by Francoist troops and executed. Since, the vitriol between the two clubs has culminated in what many observers call the “reenactment of the Spanish Civil War” during each El Clásico. Barça fighting for revolutionaries and progressive thinking while Real represents the establishment.

Comparison–Government or Not

Democrats and Republicans view the opposition as attempting to dismantle what they see as the ideal for America. Republicans are seen as the establishment; people who feel that anyone can make it so long as they try hard. Democrats are seen as the revolutionaries; people trying to level the playing field by taking from those who have and giving to those without. The leader of each party might as well be Franco.

As the 1% vs. 99% debate has shown us, class and political philosophy definitely identify your political leanings. Whether you agree or disagree with Mitt Romney’s 47% claim, want less or more government, or adhere to progressive thought or status quo life, you will find a home philosophically with the Republicans or Democrats.

Religion

Old Firm–Rangers vs. Celtic (Soccer)

Two men meet on the streets of Glasgow. One decked out in green and white. The other in blue and white. They start fighting. Why? you ask. One is Celtic. The other is Ranger. This means one is Catholic; the other is Protestant.

Okay, maybe too over-simplistic, but there is truth in this. The sectarian hatred between Celtic and Rangers is deep and intertwined in Scottish lore. But more than that, the violence between the two groups is indicative of the lack of common ground between their leaders. Scottish officials, leaders of the Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church, and the Scottish Football League can plead all they want, but until social issues are abated, the rivalry will steam forward with a fierceness that bests anything we have in the United States.

Just look at the history between these two teams. In 1980, the fans of each team stormed the field after a Celtic 1-0 victory over Rangers. Parts of the stadium were used as weapons, including iron railings, wooden stanchions, and bricks. Over two hundred were arrested. Each team was fined £20,000. Match commentator Archie MacPherson described the incident this way,

This is like a scene now out of Apocalypse Now … We’ve got the equivalent of Passchendaele and that says nothing for Scottish football. At the end of the day, let’s not kid ourselves. These supporters hate each other.

Ultimately, the riot convinced civic leaders to ban alcohol at all sporting events in Scotland.

Comparison— Republicans vs. Democrats: A God Gap?

If Celtic vs. Rangers is Catholic vs. Protestant, then the brouhaha between Republicans

Pew Research

and Democrats might be considered a God Gap rivalry. According to a Pew Research article, more Democrats and Independents doubt God’s existence than in the past–17 points from 2002 to 2012 for white Democrats or 85% to 68% of respondents. In comparison, 92% of white Republicans replied that they have never doubted the existence of God. You can see it in the blogs and comments in various articles. Democrats claiming that religion is a form of mental illness, while Republicans chastising Democrats for a hedonistic view of life.

Could it be argued that raise Christian leads a person into the Republican party while living outside of a mainstream Christian faith makes you a Democrat? I don’t know. I doubt it, but the numbers are skewing that way.

Sectionalism

India vs. Pakistan (cricket)

Um, what? Cricket? Yeah.

Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence. In other words, it is war minus the shooting. George Orwell.

This sums up the world’s largest rivalry.

And one that hardly anyone in the U.S. even knows about.

Nothing says winning and losing like a game with the threat of nuclear war hanging over it.

Since the birth of both nations in 1947 with the departure of the British from Indian subcontinent, the two countries have fought four wars between each other since. Though the birth of Pakistan comes from the intense societal rivalries between Sikhs, Muslims, and Hindus, what sets this rivalry apart from the “Old Firm” is that cricket actually unites a religiously fractured Pakistan. The bloody severance of the two nations continues in territorial disputes and wars over a tiny splinter of land. This chasm makes our own Civil War look like a mere squabble between two neighbors over a shrub.

Comparison–Blue, Red or Purple?

Red, blue and purple

When our parties first formed, they coalesced along geographical boundaries: Federalists in the Northeast, Anti-Federalists (later Jeffersonian Democrats) in the South. Since then, American politics has found dividing lines all across America–Mason-Dixon Line, 36˚30˚ (Missouri Compromise line), North/South. Today, America is divided by the colors red, blue and purple. The blues live on the coasts east and west, Reds in Middle-America, and the purples… well, they don’t really have a home. The divisions here are just as deep as those between India and Pakistan. Blues and reds fight for the purples like Pakistan and India scrap over Kashmir. I know few people born after Nixon’s horrific administration that don’t tend to the politics of their region. Of course, there are the outliers. Reds living deep in the land of blue. Blues hiding their secrets in the land of red. When viewed from afar, sectionalism trends to dictate politics also.

Fanaticism

In the realm of sports fandom, there are a few ethos that must be adhered to. Being a Cubs fan myself, some of these are difficult, trying, and at times, I have considered legal help in divorcing myself from those Lovable Losers from the North Side. Simply put, true fans will do some of the following:

  1. No bandwagoning. Once a fan, always a fan. You bleed Red Sox red, Cubbie blue, Packer’s green and gold. You stand beside your team through thick and thin.
  2. You cheer for your local team, especially if, during your formative years, your city fielded a team. They are you, you are them. They are the DALLAS Cowboys, your are resident of their town.
  3. Your emotions are tied to your team. If your team loses to an archival, you need a day or two to recuperate. If your team wins, no wrong can occur in your world.
  4. When your team screws up, you forgive. When your owners/managers screw up, you demand change!

Of course there are many more, but for the sake of determining whether politics has become akin to sports, these work well.

Comparison–um, just look at the recent election campaign.

It is in the land of fanaticism that politics loses its integrity. In 1888, James Russell Lowell–member of the Fireside poets and U.S. ambassador to both Spain and England–wrote the following of political parties and their membership:

If the politicians must look after the parties, there should be someone to look after the politicians, somebody to ask disagreeable questions and to utter uncomfortable truths; somebody to make sure, if possible, before the election, not only what, but whom the candidate, if elected, is going to represent.  James Russell Lowell, Political Essays, p. 318

Somewhere between Lowell’s keen observation and this election, American’s have lost the ability to ask those questions. They have become fanatics to the party.

In May of 2011, the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe met to discuss the role of political parties in politics. One of their conclusions would seem counterintuitive to today’s American party system. They concluded:

Increasing participation and representation further requires providing citizens the tools necessary to hold politicians and government accountable. Citizens also need access to non-classified data in order to contribute to society and enhance the democratic process. Participation can also be enhanced through new e-tools and technologies, particularly providing access to information on political parties and the electoral process in the participating States.  ODIHR report

Today’s fanatical party member will ignore the failures and faults of their own party when confronted by someone from the other. They will speak in circles. They will try to turn the table around and find fault with the other party. They will not jump off the bandwagon. They will bleed for their party. What they will not do is demand change from within.

Party affiliation is a world of sports mania.

Party members have adopted the mythos as their own, and chastise all those that disagree with them. They will hound the opposition with “trash talk” and will perpetuate a hatred of anyone not on their team. They refuse to work within a united system, and, instead, see politics as a game to be won, a championship to be earned, a trophy to be hoisted. The elected officials their athletes. Washington D.C. the arena. They are the fans paying admission, just so they can watch the other team lose.

This may work in the realm of sports.

It is dooming America in politics.

GM to sponser Man U’s shirts for $559 mil over seven years

I wonder if I can now claim partial ownership too. Just silly. A company that just needed a massive bailout from the citizenry is now going to pay $18.6 million this and next year, $70 million for the 2014-15 season, and then an increase of 2.1% thereafter through 2021. China better buy more Volts.