Last week, while most Americans, NFL, the media, President Trump and Vice President Pence were consumed with respecting the national flag and national anthem during domestic sporting events, the US soccer team was eliminated from the 2018 World Cup by Trinidad and Tobago.
Unlike some NFL players during domestic games, everyone in the US soccer team respected the national flag and national anthem at that game held in Trinidad and Tobago. The shock is not that the US, which has been portrayed by the media as a soccer powerhouse in the last 20 years, lost to a small country made of two Caribbean islands near Venezuela, with a population of little more than a million people with GDP of $20 billion (Bill Gates has more money); the real shock is that we are shocked every time the US loses or goes out of the World Cup once it gets there.
Soccer in the US is played differently than the rest of the world. Soccer in America has become the rich white boy sport. The game that is so simple, all you need is a ball and a park or a street, has been turned in the US to a huge business where a family may have to spend thousands of dollars to get their kids into private clubs and leagues.
Soccer in America is played by white kids who are in it to please their busy parents, not to enjoy the game. The kids who actually understand and enjoy soccer and play the beautiful game for the love of the game are kept out of the system and are instead tuned into South American and European soccer. As Doug Andreassen, the chairman of US Soccer’s diversity task force, stated in the Guardian. “The system is not working for the underserved community. It’s working for the white kids.” Unlike other sports; basketball and football, soccer in the US is mostly played by players with higher incomes, socio-economics and who are white.
Greg Kaplan, a University of Chicago economics professor, compared the backgrounds of each US national soccer team member from 1993 to 2013 to that of every NBA and NFL player. Using socio-economic data from their hometown zip codes it was found that the soccer players came from communities that had higher incomes, education and employment rankings, and were whiter than the US average. The cost of youth soccer travel programs is $3,000 each year. That is a lot of money for lots of non-white kids, who will rather just go and play in the park.
But we all know that soccer has quality that can’t be bought, skills that can’t be enhanced by drugs or by highly paid coaches or programs as most parents think. In American Football, where the game is played mostly by African-Americans, we still witnessed the debacle of penalizing African American players for kneeling down during the national anthem. Soccer invites people from all over the world to play the game. G. Gordon Liddy explained why he hates soccer; “Whatever happened to American exceptionalism?” David Brook calls this American parochialism; “We just don’t want to participate in world culture. Soccer is not all about winning; it is about the art of playing the beautiful game.”
Soccer is a game of life drama and disappointments, most of the attacks end up foiled by the defense and goals are not achieved, which teaches us more about real life; it is a sport where the movement of the players’ feet as they try to control the ball is like a dancer on a stage. The players seem to some Americans to exaggerate their injuries on the field, which it is to condemn violence and not to condone it. In the World Cup, every four years small countries like Slovenia, Slovakia, South Africa, Chile, or Algeria can challenge their former colonial powerhouses like Russia, England, Netherlands, France and Spain without fear of retaliation or invasion.
As The Atlantic magazine stated, it allows a chance “where postcolonial matchups include the U.S. versus the UK, Portugal versus Brazil, and Spain versus almost everybody else.” What is so different about the FIFA World Cup games compared to our local games is that it is not all about winning, it is about representing your country; each national team’s style of playing represents its own culture on the field. The direct, organized English style; the defensive Italian style; the obnoxious eccentric style of France; the creative strength of the African style; and Brazilian samba football that everyone around the world enjoys and admires.
Franklin Foer’s 2004 book “How Soccer Explains the World”, describes the logic of Nigerian footballers on the pitch; “They had ingenuity that could make a bland Eastern Bloc team look downright continental.” It is a real clash of cultures where countries can compete on a field that is just and fair, to compete in a frontier where Americans do not, and cannot, yet dominate.
For Americans, winning is the same as it is in their football: all about physical elimination of the enemy (opponents) and acquiring their territories on the field all the way to the end zone (Kabul, Baghdad), or, for Trump the white quarterback, sending the drones to a winning touchdown in Yemen, Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan.
Ahmed Tharwat is the Producer and Host of the Arab-American TV showBelAhdan. His articles are published in national and international publications. He blogs at Notes from America,www.ahmediatv.comand his articles appear in national and international publications. Follow him on Twitter@AhmediaTV.