(This is a revised version of a piece that originally ran last year on this website)
This week we’ve been presented with yet another unrelenting attack from significantly threatened portions of the American media elite on Football. The reason? The United States National Team’s resounding success in the world sport which has our boys playing for the FIFA Confederations Cup trophy tomorrow in South Africa. Be it Jim Rome, George Diaz or others these pillars of the mainstream sports media are back out in full force attacking the game at the moment of our national teams greatest triumph.
Beginning with the late Dick Young of the New York Post, sportswriters in the US, mostly insular and conservative in their world view (even many of those liberal in their politics like Keith Olbermann, are notable football haters) have tried to take the course of least resistance with regards to covering sports: that means covering American sports whose leagues have no meaningful foreign competition and not developing an interest or passion for anything not distinctly American. When a political writer for the left leaning New Republic Franklin Foer wrote an insightful book entitled “How Soccer Explains the World,” ESPN’s Sal Palantonio had to respond by writing a book titled “How Football explains America.”
The hostility to David Beckham and Cuauhtemoc Blanco when they signed in MLS was shown by local sports writers in both the LA and Chicago markets. In both markets local writers trashed the newcomers as unwelcome foreigners looking to destroy the American sporting culture. Additionally editors of major daily papers often times kill any football related story even about local teams because it is deemed less than newsworthy. Again the standard for makes a paper is subjective and determined by those who either dislike football or simply are to ignorant to understand it.
Many sportswriters in the US are not only lacking intellectual curiosity about the outside world, but often they will only 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.
Those Americans fortunate enough to travel throughout much of the world as I have been know that Football is the world sport, and nothing else comes close. I have been fortunate to be in India during two recent Super Bowls, neither of which were on television locally. Yet the nation on Super Bowl weekend features Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, SPL, Erevidese and Serie A on mainstream cable/satellite channels. College Basketball is also shown frequently in India, while (American) College Football is not.
In Europe, the Super Bowl is mostly an event which draws simple curiosity. The attempts of the National (American) Football League to empire build have fallen flat on their faces. NFL Europe has gone out of business, and the only contribution the NFL game at Wembley in 2007 made to the English sporting landscape was to destroy the football pitch in a way which benefited Croatia in the critical Euro qualifier three weeks later against England.
But that peculiar institution known as American sports is changing. Like Slavery, another peculiar institution which died in the United States long after it was banned in Europe and European colonies abroad, the changing sports landscape has come to America. But Americans tend to be conservative, slow and in many cases ignorant of the rest of the world. Much of this ignorance is created by a xenophobic media fearful of change, and in many cases too lazy to try and understand the rest of the world.
America is not only slow and somehwat conservative in its world view, but to a certain extent isolated by the vast seas and a language which is not spoken as a native tongue south of the United States in the Western Hemisphere. As the United States becomes less isolated and more Latinized, Football will continue to grow into a mainstream sport at home. The TV viewership for internationals already rivals Baseball and Basketball, and only lags far behind (American) Football and NASCAR, a sport which has wisely become more international in its outlook. In time, conservative critics will either fade away or be blown over by football in America: it’s only a matter of when.