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The American Sportswriters War on Football


(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.

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  1. eros

    July 6, 2009 at 8:55 am

    It’s very refreshing to read something that is so true, yet so ignored, about the attitude of U.S. society about itself and the rest of the world. Slow to change and very ignorant, or in denial, of the rest of the world or its activities, if it makes the U.S. look bad in any way, or is just not to our liking. The U.S. way is the only and best way, and everyone else should either change, or they will be ignored or demonized. The example of world football vs. U.S. football is one very good example of that kind of attitude. It’s too bad the people of the U.S. can’t appreciate the rest of the world more, because I would bet that the rest of the world would then be able to appreciate the U.S. alot more.

  2. peter osgood

    July 5, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    Much of KKK’s piece is based on endless comments from the broadcasting world, either sports radio, conservative political radio, cable opinion news – including MSNBC – and of course cable sports news and local tv sports news as well.

    Not easy to find links for this and if KKK had a staff to do that work for him it would certainly make his piece more complete. Anyone who hasn’t caught absurd, cowardly, insipid off-handed remarks from any of the above mentioned sources then they aren’t listening or watching.

    This piece by jack-off Kevin Hench is typical, he’s looking at the merits of the European football system to add competiveness and intergrity to US pro sports leagues that have become pedantic and insipid, and yet takes moronic shots at football along the way to show his inain American readership that he looks down on football, the world’s most competitive athletic challenge in human history.'s-steal-some-ideas-from-soccer

  3. jackie

    July 5, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    Before Beckham football was every 4 years thing now i follow all season long.So all the haters can say what they want ,he bought me back.I’ll be supporting him when he comes back to the galaxy and i will be supporting England for the world cup . Thank you david

  4. football league

    July 1, 2009 at 1:34 am

    Good one , but the only thing that holds me back on pursuing more is monetary.

  5. Lars

    June 29, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    Some folks at CBS and NBC are blasting the game of football because the US lost in the Final. Stupid. The game provided some of the best excitement I’ve seen in a football game and it’s truly unfortunate the US didn’t pull it through.

  6. Kartik Krishnaiyer

    June 29, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    Juan-John working on getting the ratings and will have a report as soon as we get them.

  7. Juan-John

    June 29, 2009 at 11:34 am

    Anybody know what ESPN’s ratings for Sunday’s final were?

  8. Jack

    June 28, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    There has been no one who trencends the game in America yet. Until there is a player like Pele, Ronaldo, or Beckham who is from the States then football will be behind the others. Sports writers and networks are only going to show what generates revnue. Look how hockey has fallen in viewership in the States compared to the 90’s. NBA has also lost its luster. Where are the quotes to basis your argument on? Many of the sports radio talk shows are talking about the US defeating Spain is almost as big as the US defeating the USSR in hockey in 1980. There is more coverage of soccer on the local level than ever and that is where it starts its popularity, so your argument is really weak because many stations have start to cover more to add revnue.

  9. Jeff

    June 28, 2009 at 8:00 am

    The last time I checked, Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, Guyana, Belize, St. Kitt’s, Grenada, and a few others were all countries that spoke english and were all located south of the United States. All in all though, a very good article.

  10. eplnfl

    June 28, 2009 at 12:43 am


    I have heard many strange political theory before but soccer being a victim of the cold war? Come up with something better.

    As to the post itself, a slavery comparison to why soccer has not been more popular, please find something more relevant in the American character. Yes, we are slow to change here in many ways( we kept George Bush around another term for no good reason) but for instance the NBA become a huge force in sports overnight with the arrival of Johnson and Bird. Until that time pro basketball was a side show. Thinks can happen quickly. You are right that football/soccer is becoming more popular because of the growing Latin population but that is not translated to support of the US Men’s team or MLS across the board. Interest in the leagues from various Latin countries has sky rocketed and the European leagues and the international game.

    When this piece was first published and I will repeat it today, I know of no negative local press for Blanco. Period. Please show me the negative stuff.
    I agree with the underlying thought of this piece and especially as to baseball writers ideas but have thought that this was not one of Kartik’s better articles.

  11. Tony

    June 27, 2009 at 11:25 pm

    I often find fault with some of your writing but the last few days you’ve been on the money with some zingers. The piece on bloggers was good, but today your match analysis and this one are right on the money.

    I am not a reporter any more but did work at several small papers years ago. When I would watch a soccer game or even try and discuss it their was laughter and a lack of acceptance, bordering on ridicule. This was in the late 90s. In fact a great deal of peer pressure exists in the industry. Some of the names you mention are probably trapped and reacting to their collegues.

    Additionally alot of Baseball oriented writers feel threatened by soccer because it is this massive international game with fans all over and without huge cheating scandals. They try and say it promotes violence but every time an American sports team wins a title we have riots in the streets and other unseemly things.

    Trust me as someone who has worked in the field- the generalizations in this blog are fairly accurate. I would however go on the record and state that I believe attitudes are changing and younmger less entrenched writers are open to the game and have grown up in a more wolrdly, less paranoid time. Soccer was always a victim of the Cold War- it was seen a socialist or communist because it is a game which is played by a largely without regard to individual stats or achievments. American sports tend to emphaise the indiidual- people recall home run records before the re4call who won the World Series. That is an important part of the American mindset towards sport which has been mainpulated for politcal and progoganda reasons through the years.

  12. Eric

    June 27, 2009 at 10:52 pm

    I think Kartik should give some specific examples. But since he seems to work day and night about pieces related to tactics and the USMNT this is what I would describe as s lazy piece of writing. That having been said, as someone who myself has spent a fair amount of time in news rooms the vast majority of his generalizations are accurate.

    That’s why this piece fails. Because the premise is true which shows its potential. Perhaps this would have been better for next week when you had more time to write it rather than simply producing it in between what seems like hundreds of podcasts and writings about the national team.

    My suggestion Kartik is to re-write this piece with specific examples when you have time. The actual fact is you are on to something very important, but by making specific generalizations which isn’t normally your style (your actual pieces about soccer are generally well researched even if very slanted) people can pick apart your argument which is in fact completely valid and INMO very accurate.

  13. Fake Sigi

    June 27, 2009 at 8:34 pm

    Yeah, I wasn’t that impressed with this piece.

  14. Wendy

    June 27, 2009 at 8:30 pm

    This post would have been helped tremendously by specific examples of soccer-bashing in the media that occurred this week, not in general over time.

    As a member of the sportswriting fraternity (but one who has covered soccer extensively over the last decade and a half), I am well aware of the attitudes you mention; I would have appreciated something to link to that would have underscored your thesis.

  15. Marvin

    June 27, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    I listen to The Onion radio news. It’s hilarious. But, lately at the end of each “news” segment it reminds people to visit The Onion Sports for coverage of “soccer and other women’s sports.” I love The Onion, but digs like that hurt my soccer psyche.

  16. adam

    June 27, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    good one!

  17. Kevin

    June 27, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    Why do you need to bring politics into sports Kartick? You and I are on opposite ends of the political spectrum yet I love and follow soccer as well. The only thing that holds me back on pursuring more is monetary. I know a shock isn’t it, a Conserative who isn’t rich, go figure. Anyway, coverage here in my town( Normal, Il., yes it’s a real town) is piss poor. Softball gets more coverage here in Central Illinois than soccer, yet for the past couple days they have actually run several stories, weird. I can’t wait till they leave and hopefully get new people more open to soccer, but I fear that still wont happen. Finally, Keith Olbermann is an ass and really didn’t go to Cornell like he says over and over again. Cornell by name, but not Ivy League.

  18. Skathe

    June 27, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    Keith comes from the most conventional of sports backgrounds and it’s no secret he’s a slave to baseball, but as you say, his politics usually favor a side friendly to soccer. I have wondered many times if this appalling and unusual bias from him has anything to do with the fact that Fox is a big purveyor of soccer here.

  19. Brian Zygo

    June 27, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    Thankfully, at least one American sports columnist gets it –

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