Tracinski Lays an Egg

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

(Or: "What Mr. Wakeland doesn't know about soccer, Mr. Tracinski doesn't know, either.")

Robert Tracinski of TIA Daily, whose work I generally admire, would doubtless be ejected from the below soccer match (HT: Martin Lindeskog) for the enthusiastic recommendation he recently gave in his newsletter for the latest example of a phenomenon that crops up reliably in America every four years, around the time of the World Cup: The Anti-Soccer Editorial by Someone Who Has No Appreciation for the Game.


Although this is the "best" example I have ever seen of one of these, it is just one of many. Its appearance is about as predictable as the "Annual Spring Taliban Offensive" (with obligatory liberal hand-wringing in the MSM) Tracinski himself is so fond of pointing out in his newsletter. And its perspicacity is on about the same par as the pacifistic hand-wringing Tracinski debunks.

I'll quote his endorsement in full here.
I am not a serious sports fan. Instead, I'm the type who ignores the regular season and tunes in only for the championship game, or only to see a player I particularly like (such as Michael Jordan). But I'm pretty ecumenical in my tastes: I'll watch football, basketball, tennis -- and every two years, I enjoy seeing some of the many obscure sports that get television coverage only during the Olympics.

But I can't stand soccer. Jack Wakeland and I have been complaining privately for many years that soccer is, in Jack's words, "a game designed for double amputees." We have speculated that soccer is the perfect product of a socialist society, which commands man not to use his most effective organs of survival -- in the economy, he cannot use his own judgment; in sports, he cannot use his hands.

I was delighted to see all of those points echoed in this article from the website of the Weekly Standard, along with another very important observation: soccer deprives its spectators of the essential spiritual experience that rewards the viewer's interest in sports -- the experience of scoring. In the realm of sports, scoring is success -- and soccer is diabolically arranged to deprive its viewers of the sight of success.
Well, at least Tracinski starts out by admitting the obvious: that he is not a serious sports fan. And he does also admit to hating soccer. You can't fault a man for not knowing much about sports, for his tastes, or for being up-front about the same.

But you can call his speculation that soccer is a "perfect product of socialism" what it is: baloney. Is the marathon a "race designed for double amputees" because one does not use his hands? Is figure skating, for which I seem to recall that Tracinski has a special fondness, also for double amputees? I didn't think so. Oh, and while we're on the subject, would someone please tell me how one "scores" in figure skating? What was that? Oh! They're awarded by a panel of judges from countries whose residents regard America in Iraq as worse than Iran having nukes? Talk about a "diabolical way of depriving us viewers of the sight of success"....

No. I don't mean to trash figure skating for having to be judged, but in doing so, I am making the point that someone who knows little to nothing about soccer sounds about as ridiculous damning it for not having a goal every five seconds as I would for complaining about something -- like judging controversies -- that are simply an inevitable result of the rules of international figure skating competitions.

On the subject of scoring in sports (when such scoring isn't subject to judicial fiat), one could make a similarly facile argument condemning basketball for the opposite sin as soccer: having "too much" scoring. After all, it is not uncommon for basketball players to traverse the court numerous times in the process of scoring over a hundred points -- one, two, or three at a time -- to win a game, when all a soccer team usually has to do is score perhaps a handful of points to win.

Basketball, such an "analysis" would hold, is wracked with inflation, robbing its players of the value of the successes they have already produced by making them have to score "too many times" to win a game. No wonder it's popular with blacks, who bloc-vote for Democrats (and their inflationary policies), and becoming more so in socialist Europe, particularly in nations (like Greece and Italy) which historically had high inflation and unstable currencies before the Euro!

And the spiritual experience for the fans, of seeing points scored, is cheapened by the fact that it occurs so often. By Jove, one might as well watch footage of a printing press reeling off fiat currency! Basketball may allow players to use their hands all they want -- just like men in inflationary economies are free to use their minds -- but it retroactively robs them of the value of their past efforts!

Of course, this analysis is complete baloney. Just as Tracinski's remarks about soccer are, as well as the numerous idiotic points made by the article he praises. I'll close by considering just a few of the more ridiculous ones. I follow each with my comments in italics.
The historic game with Italy ended in an epic 1-1 tie. But in what was ballad as one of the greatest games ever played by an American team, the United States failed to score. The goal credited to the Americans was scored by an opposing player who--oops!--accidentally kicked the ball into his own goal.

Think about this about this for a moment. It just about sums up everything you need to know about soccer, or football, as it is known elsewhere.

Have Messrs. Frank Cannon and Richard Lesser never heard of the "safety" in American football? Or of quarterback passes being intercepted and returned for touchdowns? Or of a miscue making the difference in an ice skating competition? Accidents happen in sports and winning games (or competitions) will necessarily sometimes entail overcoming (or profiting from) such events.

Most soccer matches end in scoreless ties (or nil, nil in soccer parlance), 1-1 deadlocks or 1-0 victories. A final score of 2-1 is regarded as a veritable outburst of offense, an avalanche of goal scoring that leaves exhausted fans shaking their heads and pining for the old days when teams knew how to play strong defense. A score of 2-0 is said to be a crushing victory (or defeat) of Carthaginian proportions rendering national shame and humiliation and potentially resulting in coup d'etat, or even war.

Um. No. Many matches do end in draws. Many can be decided by a point or two. Two points is usually -- depending on how play went during the match -- regarded as a decisive victory. Three almost always is. At the international level, a loss of four or more is about as embarrassing as a twenty point defeat at the professional level would be in a basketball championship. Damn inflation!

As for the wars, that obviously hasn't a bloody thing to do with soccer as a game. But hey! When you don't like something, use whatever it takes to fool yourself into mistaking your ignorance and personal taste for virtue.

The game consists of 22 men running up and down a grassy field for 90 minutes with little happening as fans scream wildly.

Until the year Rice won the College World Series and I had the opportunity to watch several very good baseball games narrated by a very talented commentator, I had zero appreciation for all the strategy that goes into that game. I used to see (before switching channels): nine men standing around on a field, scratching themselves and spitting while some guy with a beer belly swung a stick at a ball.

I am still not a huge baseball fan, but I will never again be so dismissive of the sport just because I don't always appreciate what is going on strategically.

It is the same with soccer, which I have played and refereed. Not to knock the various sports I will contrast (sometimes a little heavy-handedly) with soccer here, but....

Unlike American football, with its many set plays, soccer features a jazz-like fluidity. A truly great player will develop a rapport with his teammates and create spectacular plays on the fly. If you don't care for improvisation, stay away.

Unlike in basketball, goals consist of much more than some seven-footer slapping a ball through a hoop at will. A goal is more often than not a hard-earned result of a team's patiently building up an attack, combined with on-the-fly teamwork. Sometimes, the player who scores does so after almost acrobatic efforts to strike the ball. If you haven't the patience to follow an offensive buildup or wait for the opportunity to see a spectacular individual althelticism, someone else could use your barstool.

Unlike most American sports, with their unlimited substitutions and interminable time-outs, the clock runs constantly in soccer. You must, quite literally, think on your feet most of the game. Furthermore, all but the goalkeepers and at most six other players must be well-conditioned enough to run almost constantly for two forty-five minute halves. There are no beer bellies in soccer. If fitness annoys you, switch channels.

... Scoring goals is of such little importance...

This is (usually) bass-ackwards. See my remarks above concerning basketball. In tournament play, this is sometimes correct due to how wins and draws are tallied during round-robin play. If long-range planning doesn't wax your lance, find something that does.


But soccer players use their heads, deliberately, to contact the ball. This is contrary to all human instinct, which is to keep the head out of the way of danger. Duck, you idiot! Protecting the head against injury is deeply rooted in our nature. It's an evolutionary survival response. Sacrifice a limb if you must, give up an arm or leg, but protect your head at all costs. Yet in soccer the player is encouraged, no, expected to hit the ball with his head. This is as stupid an action as a human being can undertake.

One protects himself from injuring his head by learning the proper way to strike the ball with his head. Physical contact is illegal.

And I'd still take a surprise hit on my unprotected head with a soccer ball over an errant (or deliberate) 90-plus MPH baseball in the head while wearing a plastic helmet (sans faceguard) any day. Or participate in a football game where some 300 pound behemoth can decide on any play to "risk" the loss of a few yards by grabbing the face-mask of my "protective" helmet and yanking me to the ground.

If you find that heading a soccer ball is a confusing concept, but that beanballs and face-mask penalties make perfect sense, I cannot help you. Seek a professional.
This article is utterly ridiculous to anyone with any familiarity at all with soccer, and its endorsement by Robert Tracinski, someone I hold in high regard, is particularly disappointing.

-- CAV

(My thanks to an anonymous commenter for suggesting this post.)

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

I could understand a pro-soccer pitch and an attempt to educate the reader as to some of soccer's merits. And some of the baseball inflation ideas and all would have made them well and trully funny with a different presentation. But this thing reads like the party downer who doesn't understand that the people around him are telling jokes and sets about trying to straighten them out.

I thought Tracinski's points were hillarious, and it wouldn't have even occurred to me that someone might take them so seriously!

bothenook said...

i didn't know a darned thing about soccer until my oldest daughter started playing in the 5-6 year olds league. that was years ago. when i ended up the coach by default two days after the season started, i learned fast. and i learned to love the game.
at work, i am the lone ranger regarding soccer, except for the french speaking african i work with. we constantly catch crap for talking soccer. too bad

Gus Van Horn said...

Anon,

You could be right about Tracinski's comments being made in jest. But when you're used to reading sourpuss slams about soccer every four years, it does make you a little predisposed to straighten them out.

I was a little bit straightening him out and cracking wise at the same time. While I wasn't in a perticularly sour mood when I wrote this, it is interesting to learn that I might have come across that way.

Bo,

Thanks for your support, especially if I did sound as beseiged to you as I did to that other guy!

Gus

Jennifer Snow said...

My supervisor is into soccer to the extent that he's been taking days off work to watch the U.S. play at the World Cup. Now THERE's dedication.

All sports and games contain arbitrary or semi-arbitrary rules; it's what makes them HARD. If the rules make the game ESPECIALLY hard, then it's a matter of some status just to be halfway-decent at it! For a sport with some crazy whacked-out rules (can you say "right-of-way"?) try Fencing.

Soccer would be a joke if the players were allowed to use their hands, not to mention us ladies would be denied the sight of those fantastically developed legs flashing across the screen. Yowza.

Myrhaf said...

I hate soccer and hockey. I sometimes joke that soccer is un-American, but that's just joking. If Tracinski is joking, his tongue is deep in his cheek. If he is not joking, then Gus is right: stupid, no-nothing piece of writing. This and Wakeland's opinion that we should not criticize President Bush are making me wonder about TIA.

Blair said...

At the risk of losing my 'blogging friend' Gus, I must say that, while I don't 'hate' soccer, I find it a dreadful bore [I mean a 0-0 score after 90-100 minutes of play? C'mon!!!], nor do I care for the traveling goon squads of drunken louts who are 'fans' of their team. To the extent that it 'takes hold' here in America is the extent we succumb to European collectivism even more than we already have. That, to me, would be a sad day indeed. Give me the NFL 100% of the time, baby!!!

Gideon said...

I had the same reaction as Gus to Tracinski's comment today. Way to go Gus for setting him straight!

Actually, I'm not a big sports fan either but to the extent I like any sports I enjoy world cup soccer and basketball.

Adrian Hester said...

Yo, Gus, if Tracinski's article was tongue-in-cheek, it's well-nigh impossible to tell, given the way it was put on an equal footing with indubitably serious news stories. It provoked a disbelieving snort from me when I read it, truth be told. While the article Tracinski linked to does have some funny bits, it compared unfavorably with, say, George Carlin's routine about baseball or the argument of a friend of mine that American football is the only truly Aristotelian team sport (in which he ended up sounding exactly like George Carlin, heh), or even a British character remarking on the supposed virility of a country whose men see fit to put on 40 pounds of padding to play rugby. Now, when opposing teams start launching pointed sticks at each other with a bat (yes, it's a real game, gagar, played among the Uyghurs), then we'll have truly virile sports. After all, it's only fun and games until someone puts an eye out--then it's sports. Heh.

Anonymous said...

"To the extent that it 'takes hold' here in America is the extent we succumb to European collectivism even more than we already have."

I don't know if this is true but conservatives for the most part think it is. I think that many conservatives hate soccer because they associate it with European socialism and pacifism.

While there are many things to hate regarding European culture (most of which we suffer from too), soccer is not one of them. Tracinski's piece once again shows that at times he sounds eerily similar to a conservative.

Philosphically, I would say that one's choice between the NFL or soccer is a case of optional values. To make a case that one is inherently more "individualistic" or "capitalistic" is pure rationalism.

I second Myrhaf's concern for the quaility of TIA's writing.

D. Eastbrook

Cyrano said...

Gus:

THANK YOU. Great article, with some great analogies and great points. I get sick of the anti-soccer crowd, too: ignorant drunken rationlizing bohemians. I can understand not liking it -- we all have personal tastes -- but to attack soccer as anti-man is irrational.

I played soccer for years -- elementary school through high school, where I was on a team that went to state playoffs. I absolutely love the game.

The intensity, focus, and creativity you have to show on the field is unbelievable. There have been studies done (as I was told growing up) that show that you have to make more decisions in soccer per unit time than in most other sports.

No, we don't like games ending 0-0 or 1-1, but we have to earn points, and earn them hard. As you point out, it takes long-range, cooperative action of individuals. Sounds like baseball, huh? (Whose scores can often be low and disappointing, too.)

For that matter, it sounds like what one might do on a hunting expedition. And it sounds a lot closer to a hunting expedition than does football or basketball.

In soccer, as in ballet, you don't have to score for there to be excitement. The Brazillians, for example, can play some damn good exciting ball without scoring too much. They create space and opportunities out of nothing; it is exciting watching an individual do that, and watching a few of his teammates create havoc with the opposing team. The quickness with which they can react and create is...well, damn holy. The action in itself is exciting, as in ballet.

--Cyrano

Gus Van Horn said...

Hi,

Thanks to everyone for weighing in here. I think D. Eastbrook pretty well sums up what I see are as the two issues here (TIA's quality and soccer as an optional value). I am pretty much where he is on both,

And I'll add something else. What bugs me about people who go out of their way to ridicule soccer (as opposed to the kind of good-natured ribbing Myrhaf speaks of) is that soccer is an optional value. This makes such attacks mean-spirited at best and nihilistic at worst, as an attack on values. (The motivation completely escapes me. When I don't like something, I basically forget about it or say something to the effect of "whatever floats your boat" and move on.)

This is what makes Tracinski's attack on soccer such an unpleasant surprise. (And what's more, he even admitted today that he "suspected" that his "comments yesterday expressing a disparaging view of soccer [would be] controversial for a few of TIA Daily's readers". He published two pro-soccer letters, but the whole thing was silly at best and not what I'm paying him to do in any event.)

Furthermore, as an Objectivist, he should have a fair idea of what it's like to be on the receiving end of that kind of "humor" to begin with. That being the case, why dish it out for something completely innocent like soccer?

Gus

Nicholas Provenzo said...

Great horse-whipping of a foolish position Gus, and well deserved. There is no such thing as a socialistic sport, because a socialistic sport would be truly pointless to watch. And that’s why sports metaphors are such a useful tool to help illustrate the evils of government regulation such as antitrust.

Besides, if the issue is the use of the hands, why didn’t Tracinski write an ode to rugby? I wait—I bet Wakeland and Tracinski think socialism lurks in rugby’s dark underbelly as well . . .

David said...

I think soccer is a great game. I play it myself and enjoy it very much. It requires a great deal of creativity and thought, that's why I like it.

I think Tracinski might have made a better point if he dwelled on the way that Europeans (and the rest of the world except America) view the World Cup. The way they view it certainly has collectivist/tribal overtones. If their country defeats another country the supporter will genuinely feel great pride and boastfulness and superiority towards the defeated country's supporters. Why?

The players themselves are much more passionate when they play for their country in comparison to when they play for their club teams. There are far more tears when they lose and far more joy when they win.

Soccer is a way for small nations to humble large nations. The Rest-of-the-World enjoy the fact that America is not the best at soccer. Even though victory over America in soccer means absolutely nothing, the Rest-of-the-World takes some solace from their victory over America in soccer.

Gus Van Horn said...

David,

THIS is the one and only point Tracinski could have brought up and actually made any sense, and I agree with it because if there is anything I find annoying about international soccer, this is it.

Soccer, like any other game, is no substitute for real life. We Americans have not quite mastered the game yet, but those of us who do apperciate it at least know how, unlike many fans from abroad, to keep it in perspective.

Thanks for stopping by.

Gus