Friday, June 25, 2010

Americans and Soccer

If you watch sports at all, or for that matter just turned on a TV, in the past two weeks, you’ve seen something about the World Cup. There have been all manner of issues surrounding a bunch of the teams. There’s been the implosion and nearly self-imposed boycott by the French. There was the 7-0 rout that Portugal hung on North Korea. There was the phantom call made against the Americans calling back what would have been a winning goal. And there has been article after article written about weather or not America will ever fully embrace soccer as a major sport?

For the record, the answer is “no”.

Historically, I never really liked soccer that much. I played when I was a kid, then took a brief hiatus from about 10 years old until I was about 25. I was always able to appreciate it. These guys have ball skills at a dead run that I couldn’t put together if you let me use my hands. They’re in great shape. They’re revered the world over. Yet, if you ask your average sports-loving American in a bar “What do you think about soccer?,” you’re going to get something sarcastic, rude, possibly offensive or all three for your inquiry. Why? Here’s why…

American culture is competitive. Maybe it’s competitive to a fault? Maybe it’s that competitive nature that makes this country great? Actually, it’s probably some of each. But the bottom-line is that we’re competitive. We want to win. We want to win everything…all the time. So how likely is it that a nation with that type of drive and nature is going to accept and openly embrace a competitive event where the outcome can be a tie? A few years ago, the Bengals and the Eagles ended an NFL game in a tie, neither team scoring in the sudden-death OT period. I was at that game, and fans were incensed. I was ready for Eagles fans to collaborate with Bengals fans to burn the stadium to the ground. Either team would have sooner taken a loss then a tie.

The second reason is the exceeding amount of flopping that goes on. It always cracks me up when soccer players walk past one another, exchange words, touch in passing, and then one of them mercilessly flings himself to the ground as though he just stepped on a landmine. Better still is when there is incidental contact in the lower body and the guy grabs his head like he just took a right cross from Tyson. Even being a fan of the sport, I want to tell these guys to man up and get serious.

The final reason comes down to heart. Do soccer players have it? Yes. Do them demonstrate it? Sometimes. Do you ever hear about it? No.

This year Didier Drogba, striker for the Ivory Coast, broke his forearm in a tune-up game leading up to the World Cup. He missed the opening match due to the injury. Hey then had his arm cast in a low-profile support, approved by his team, the World Cup governing body, and the opposing team to allow him to play with it on. Now keep in mind, the World Cup is like the Olympics. It’s only played once every four years. And when his coach came to him after practice the night before their second match, asking if he wanted to play the next day, what was his response? “I’d rather be on the bench.” GET FOR REAL!

A few years ago, a fella named Curt Schilling was slated to pitch in the World Series with an ankle injury that required surgery. What did he do? He had the training staff stitch the injured tendon in place and went out to do work. Missing his start wasn’t even an option. He basically had the equivalent over OTC surgery, and went out to write his place into history, while the stitches pulled with every pitch, causing him to bleed through his sock.

How about Terrell Owens playing for the Eagles a few years ago? A major knee injury after a tackle by Roy Williams not only required him to have surgery, but also led to a shift in the rules of the game of football, prohibiting horse collar tackles from then on. What did he do? He spent two weeks in a hospital bed with his leg under compression and ice to ensure that he would be able to play in the Super Bowl that same month. THAT SAME MONTH! This was an injury that comes with a 6-8 month recovery period.

Drew Brees played an AFC Championship game on a torn ACL. Steve Nash had his nose broken in a game and only came out long enough to stop the bleeding, and only that long because the refs made him. John Isner just played the longest match in tennis history through blood and cramps.

And a soccer player wants to sit the bench with a broken forearm in a cast? Umm…you do realize you’re not even allowed to use your hands, right?

Unfortunately, Drogba’s response made news all over ESPN and other sports outlets. That’s what people have heard. And while that’s not the mentality of every soccer player out there, that is what has been represented. And that’s just a level of heart and commitment that isn’t acceptable in the competitive nature of this country.


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