Soccer: A Cultural Touchstone?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Reader Snedcat recently pointed me to a blog posting titled, "No, Conservatives, There Is No Left-Wing Soccer Conspiracy" by John Pepple, author of Soccer, the Left, & the Farce of Multiculturalism. Pepple's ruminations about the phenomenon of conservative commentators railing against soccer raise many interesting issues, but two stand out. Before I dive in, let me note that, contrary to Pepple, I do see some leftists glomming on to the soccer bandwagon and trying to politicize it (as I note in the last link). However, I do agree that the left hasn't been a major force behind its now widespread and growng popularity in the U.S.

First, Pepple, who strikes me as a disaffected, old-fashioned leftist [Update: I may be wrong. See comment by Snedcat below.], finds zero evidence of broad left-wing support for the game or -- and I find this even more interesting -- any other sport:

Think about this. Every now and then Legal Insurrection shows a photo someone has taken of a car whose rear end is filled with leftist bumper stickers. Have you ever seen one of these cars with a soccer bumper sticker on it? Of course not. Leftists who are soccer fans are few and far between, and even when they are fans, they don't make a big political thing about it (which goes against their habit of politicizing everything, but that is their business). When I go to games, many of the cars in the parking lot have bumper stickers related to soccer on their bumpers, and they never have anything related to leftist causes, but when I go to Whole Foods (which is almost never), the bumper stickers I see in their parking lot never have anything related to soccer. [format edits]
Considering what sports offer vis-a-vis the leftist idea of equality, this comes as no surprise. (But still, don't expect facts like these to cause Ann Coulter and her ilk to question their emotional associations, or do anything other than double down on their peculiar brand of patronizing cluelessness.)

Second, Pepple notes that the lukewarm reception of soccer by the left in general is despite the fact that one would think it a shoe-in, based on multiculturalist rhetoric:
... The "activists" have been inactive when it comes to advancing soccer, even though (as I spent a chapter arguing in my book) it seems to be right up their alley (especially in terms of multiculturalism). And this may be what conservatives are picking up on, that it seems perfectly natural for the left to adopt soccer, even though they mostly have not done so.
This is because the "activists" aren't. They're bullies, from their style of argumentation, through their rhetorical approach, and down to their hypocrisy. Multiculturalism isn't about ending racism, but about perpetuating injustice to Western civilization through lip-service to a just cause. The lack of interest in soccer, even in terms of promoting it, is just a symptom.

Pepple has helped me see that soccer is one of those rare cultural phenomena that can show much about both its more vocal detractors and those who seem like natural allies, but who remain oddly silent about it. And I have hardly scratched the surface regarding the issues his piece brings  up.

-- CAV


7-22-14: Added a note. 


Grant said...

In my opinion, the most frightening thing about the rise of soccer's popularity in America is that it hasn't coincided with a decline in the popularity of the other, already popular sports. This means that at a time when people should have a decreased - or at least equal-sized - appetite for "bread and circuses" (in order to deal with their ever-more-serious problems), they're instead looking for - and getting - even more opportunities to evade. I've discussed, in a previous comment on your blog, my other misgivings about soccer's rising popularity, but I regard that as by far the biggest one. Because of it, the whole phenomenon strikes me as rather disingenuous.

Grant said...

A second comment:

I think the (perhaps poorly articulated) point of the conservatives' criticism of soccer's popularity isn't that it's a leftist conspiracy, but simply that it proves that the entire country has shifted left to some degree. It's true that people who are openly leftist aren't the ones who are watching soccer in America, but that isn't because soccer is just as "American" as the country's more traditional sports. It's simply because, as you mentioned, it's a sport. Sports - of any kind - are inherently "rightist", and therefore will never be embraced by leftists as much as they are by rightists, but that doesn't mean that America's shift in interest from one sport to another signifies nothing. Because of soccer's inherent differences in what it emphasizes (not possesses or lacks, but only emphasizes), it means that to be right of the left of today is to be left of the right of yesterday.

Soccer's rising popularity doesn't mean that America has become a leftist country - only that it's continuing on it's way there. A lack of emphasis on individual achievement will lead to a loss of appreciation for it - which will lead to a lack of emphasis on even it's cheap substitute: group achievement; and therefore a loss of appreciation for achievement as such (making Americans the perfect sort of passive - er, "open-minded", "carbon-neutral" manques a leftist elite could more easily rule).

Also, I would like to mention that I regard you in particular, Gus, as an exception to all of this. As a result of following your blog for some time, as far as I know you had never been a serious fan of any sport until you discovered soccer. Rather, your appreciation for individual achievement was expressed through an interest in other, non-athletic, but still completely legitimate, individual-achievement-emphasizing, "all-American" pursuits. Unlike someone who merely switched interests, this means that the development of your interest in soccer (as opposed to any other sport) was purely incidental. In other words, I think that you like soccer precisely because it's a sport (and all that that signifies) - and not because it's "less American" than other sports which you could follow, and would enjoy. I do think that, in a vacuum, you would get more of the same pleasure you get out of soccer, from baseball or football - but given the time and energy it would take to (re?)acquaint oneself with the particulars, it's probably not worth it to do so.

Snedcat said...

Yo, Gus, you write, "Pepple, who strikes me as a disaffected, old-fashioned leftist..." Used to be, anyway. I'm not sure what his leftism consists in now, given that he's generally pro-free-market and staunchy anti-Islam.

Gus Van Horn said...


I unfortunately don't have time to address your comments in detail, but I will state that I don't agree that sports are inherently "rightist" and dispute the idea (which I believe anti-soccer commentators seize on) that team sports generally (and soccer in particular) de-emphasize the individual. (Does a great company like Apple, "deemphasize the individual" by virtue of requiring coordinated effort to achieve a goal? Of course not.)

Regarding soccer vs. other sports, I also enjoy American football, although I watch much less of it these days due to having children and in part (as I once blogged, but can't find the post) because I get more bang for the buck from soccer (shorter game time due to lack of timeouts and continuous action).

You seem to have a lower regard for sports than you ought. I recommend following the link above (RE: what sports have to offer) to a fine piece by Tom Bowden on the Super Bowl.


Thanks for mentioning that. I was shooting from the hip, based partly on the title of his blog (*I Want a New Left*).


Snedcat said...

Yo, Gus, you write, "But still, don't expect facts like these to cause Ann Coulter and her ilk anything other than double down on their peculiar brand of patronizing cluelessness."

I read that link. It was unfunny and graceless, and thus what I expected from her. Worst sin of all, it was boring--even the cheap shots you could get in using her own words would be pretty dull fare.

Gus Van Horn said...

There is one interesting thing about her second column: It continues mocking soccer fans despite the fact that many conservatives, like the one I cited came to its defense.

There are things that deserve mockery, but this isn't one of them. One wonders why Coulter bothers to write at all.

Grant said...


Of course sports are inherently "rightist" (if by "rightist" I mean at least a relatively greater valuing of achievement - individual or collective - and a greater tolerance for winners and losers in a given activity than "leftist" would value or tolerate such things). All other things being equal, a person who self-identifies as a Republican or a conservative is more likely to be a sports fan than someone who considers himself a Democrat or a liberal - and it's precisely for this reason.

Also, I didn't say that team sports deemphasize the individual. I wasn't comparing team sports to individuals sports - but merely one team sport (soccer) to other team sports (baseball and football, in particular). Given soccer's relatively greater degree of chance for scoring outcomes, as well as it's (again) relatively greater degree of non-specialization amongst the various members of a team, it's simply indisputable that soccer is less symbolically individualistic than the popular American sports are (incidentally, this is also the reason why hockey and basketball aren't as popular with Americans as baseball and football are: because their dynamics more closely resemble soccer's. Think of it this way: while of course it's less likely that a fullback or a hockey defenseman will score a goal than it is a striker or a hockey center, it's much, much more likely for those two things to happen than it is for a catcher to hit an inside the park homerun).

The most important thing to note, however, is my use of the word "symbolically." Of course team work - regardless of the dynamic of the particular sport - in no way literally deemphasizes the individual. Just like in business, individual achievements absolutely must be there for group achievements to occur - but unlike in business, people who have nothing to do with the achievement specifically go out of their way to watch the "work" (ie: play) that goes into a sports achievement. Being the best goalie, or striker, or pointguard, or whatever one can be is an admirable achievement, so I wouldn't ever say that people who enjoy soccer don't also enjoy the individual achievements that must occur within a given game or season or tournament - and I would even concede that (Americans at least) like soccer and hockey and basketball primarily for that part of it (just like why they like football and baseball for that part) - but I absolutely would say that Americans' growing interest in sports (particularly soccer) where the (direct, perceptual) distinction between those achievements and the overall team achievement isn't as stark, where the role they play isn't as obvious... well, Americans interest in those types of sports reveals a change in (or, more accurately, a blunting of) Americans' reverence for the individual and the great things he can achieve (on his own, or better yet: in comparative-advantage, division-of-labor style cooperation with others).

Gus Van Horn said...


Regarding "rightist" as "pro-value", I'd have to agree with you on that.

I don't presently have time to think about or address your elaboration on soccer as more-or-less upholding of individualism than other sports, but do appreciate your taking the time to elaborate.