By Jim Bennett
Daily Review Atlas
Let’s face it: Soccer is a flop here. The pastime the rest of the world lives for is about as popular with Americans as Helen Thomas is with the Jewish Anti-Defamation League.
The Yankee yawn of indifference toward soccer mystifies all other nations. The typical European, Asian or Latin American sports enthusiast behaves as if the World Cup consists of one team curing cancer while the other team captures and exhibits a live Sasquatch. Yet if you were to judge the game based on the apathetic response it receives stateside, you’d think it was just some guys kicking a ball around.
What accounts for this domestic disinterest? The prevailing wisdom asserts that our collective psychological marketplace for amusements is finite; since baseball, basketball and football have filled up most of the space available for sports, there is very little room left for soccer. I don’t buy that. The popularity of “Jersey Shore” and “Glee” categorically proves that we, as a people, have no cultural gag-reflex when it comes to what we’re willing to consume as entertainment.
Another theory holds that soccer’s pace makes it too boring for attention-deficient Americans. Nah. One of our fastest growing spectator sports is three hours of watching a clump of cars circling a track.
Recently, though, I heard the least-credible theory of all. Some wit declared that soccer is a non-starter here because violent hooliganism abroad has left us with a bad impression of fútbol.
Well, that’s just crazy-talk! Who loves sports-related riots more than the people of this great republic?
Fans in the USA don’t even need a heartbreaking loss or a bad call to trigger mayhem; a joyous victory for the home team is every bit as likely to release the Kraken. The Lakers’ championship win this month touched off celebratory rioting in L.A. that was as bad as, well, the rioting after the Lakers’ championship win last year.
Celebrating a big win by making the hometown play Tina to their Ike has become tradition among U.S. sports mobs. Tigers votaries gave Motown the arson-and-rioting equivalent of an atomic wedgie after Detroit claimed the Commissioner’s Trophy in ’84. Following the Broncos’ Super Bowl XXXII win, Denver fans made the Mile-High City look like it had just been shot by the Death Star. And six years ago, as Red Sox supporters enjoyed the kind of triumph they hadn’t seen since the great World Series victory of 1918, they rejoiced by subjecting Beantown to the kind of destruction it hadn’t seen since the Great Boston Molasses Tragedy of 1919.
Which is not to say, of course, that a loss can’t stir things up too. Remember those mischievous imps from Michigan State University who, in 1999, registered their displeasure with the Spartans’ Final Four defeat by reducing the entire Lower Peninsula to a smoldering heap of post-apocalyptic rubble? Granted, they didn’t rack up double-digit and triple-digit body counts like the Brits in Belgium back in ’85 or the 2001 African riots, but those loveable MSU scamps did beat up a Taco Bell.
Truthfully, I have no idea why soccer is so unpopular here. I know nothing about sports. For most of my life, there hasn’t been a single game that I enjoyed playing, let alone watching.
Recently, however, something amazing happened: I am now hopelessly and obsessively in love with a sport! I’m referring to that noblest of all diversions, bowling. And if that can happen to me, then coaxing this country into an infatuation with soccer will be a snap.
In fact, it’s literally as easy as the press of a button.
You see, not long ago I reluctantly went to a bowling alley with a friend, and as I was preparing to seethe, cringe and loathe, I noticed a little white button on the scorekeeper’s table.
“What’s that for?” I asked, pointing.
“Oh, this?” my friend said. He pressed it.
Approximately twenty seconds later a woman with a notepad approached him. They had a brief conversation and she left. Ten minutes later she returned, carrying a tray that held Jell-O, curly fries, corn dogs and Pepsi.
I was sold. In that instant, I became a ten-pin zealot forever.
So, if they’re serious about popularizing soccer in the USA, it begins and ends with installing those magical waitress-summoning buttons in every seat at every arena in the country. Do this, and mark my words: Overnight, the American people will be saying to soccer what I now say to bowling:
“You had me at Jell-O.”
Jim Bennett is the pastor of Rozetta Baptist Church in rural Henderson County.
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