Saturday, July 24, 2010

Soccer and Socialism: The Real Connection

When I think about the nature of soccer in the United States I, perhaps bizarrely, am reminded of Werner Sombart's famous question, "Why is there no socialism in America?" That was one of my advisor's favorite questions to slip into a comprehensive exam (though I never got to tackle it in that format).

And I always had an answer that I thought was at least somewhat counterintuitive. In brief: In the period when Sombart lived and posed the question, there was and is socialism in America. It's just that in a two-party system having a few hundred thousand or a handful of million supporters means that you are a virtual nonentity. Socialist candidates and their allies scored several hundred thousand votes in myriad presidential elections in the first three decades of the twentieth century. In a parliamentary system they would have had a voice, and may have joined in coalitions with the major parties, giving them some power. But ours is not a system friendly to third parties, and none, including the socialists, have yet gained traction to the point of being a viable long-term force in American politics. It might happen someday, but the system so far has been resilient enough to fend off or co-opt such challenges.

In a very broad sense, the same thing can be said for soccer in America, though soccer and socialism otherwise have nothing in common, idiot conservative critics notwithstanding. The NFL is by just about any measure the most socialist sports league on Earth. After all, who benefits from sales of a Tom Brady jersey? Does that money go to Tom Brady? Nope. To the team for which he plays? Nope. It's split up evenly among every team in the league. Do the Cowboys get more television revenue than the Lions, given how many more people tune in to watch the Cowboys? Nope. TV revenue is split up amongst the comrades of the NFL. There may be plenty of reasons to like or dislike a sport. But tying it to one's political worldview is not one of them, and doing so is inane. All team sports are, I suppose, "socialistic" inasmuch as the individual subsumes him or her self to the larger whole. And by that measure all individual sports are more capitalistic, or democratic, or free, or what have you. But would you want to watch sports with a dullard who sees the world through such a knee-jerk and politicized lens?

People are always asking when soccer is going to take off in the United States. But it already has. And not just among kids. Soccer is tremendously popular in many circles in the US. It just is not as popular as our version of football or as baseball, or as basketball. But I have no reason to believe that it cannot surpass, if it has not already surpassed, hockey as the fourth major team sport in the United States. Furthermore, part of the reason why Americans have not embraced (but nor have they rejected) the MLS to the degree MLS boosters would hope, is that increasingly we can all watch English Premier League, La Liga, and of course the Champions League -- the best soccer in the world, in other words -- live in our living rooms.

If the two-party dominance in American politics has blinded us to undercurrents of discontent beneath the surface, the dominance of a handful of team sports, with massive fragmentation beneath those sports, has led many of us to be blind about just how big soccer is in the United States. We are not waiting for soccer to blossom here. It is blossoming. It has blossomed. And it will continue to do so.


dannybrit said...

as a lover of football(soccer), i am glad to hear it is blossoming over there in the US. however, the trouble is, as with china, if a nation with over 300,000,000 people start taking the sport seriosly, the chances are, they will end up dominating the sport. so you can understand why nations such as france, england, germany, spain etc, would fear the us, if they ever began to take football serious, really serious.
the usa has a rich history, in football however, it has the same success as france does in recent militery history, haha.
......p.s, i still think zimbabwe should be invaded by uk, haha.

dcat said...

Ahhh, Danny, it's good to have your particular brand of insanity back!
I think the reality with soccer in the United States is that it is popular and increasingly so, and as a result we are improving if only incrementally. I think it's pretty safe to say that as overrated as we were going into the World Cup in 2006, we are rated right about where we deserve to be now -- top 15 in the world with the possibility of climbing higher but certainly no guarantees. Our professional league is getting better but will never be what the EPL is, though at the same time more and more of our players are not only playing but are playing well in the EPL, La Liga, Bundesliga, etc.
China is, in football as in everything else, a potential sleeping giant, but it might take some time to reach that potential -- indeed I fully expect that country to increase its basketball presence before its football presence, as the Chinese have really taken to basketball.


Anonymous said...

yes, i mysef was in the philippines earlir this year, and basketball is really popular there. It perplexes me, since most filipinos are barely over 5ft5, same goes for the chinese i would imagine. i wonder if they even see the irony.
yes, i would say you are ranked right about where you should be. england somehow managed to climb up to 7th in the rankings, despite a poor world cup. maybe we should be around 15th aswell.
the thing about the mls is, it is where the best players in the world go, after they are washed up, such as beckham and henry,due to the money aspect.Beckham knew he would not have a chance of playing in the world cup, if he was playing in the american soccer league, as it was too low-class. That is why he went to Milan. However, getting players like that, washed up or not, shows your league is improving. Also, your reputation has been increased, due to your passionate performance in the world cup. Definitely one or two world class players, and a more that capable team.
I myself support a lowly team called Hartlepool united, and the football season starts on Saturday, so I am looking forward to that. However, in my short amount of time on this earth, I have learned that my club team is exactly like my international team-- useless, embarrassingly unskilled, and extremely aware of it.