Friday, September 28, 2007
The Greatest Team You've Never Heard Of
"Brazil Delivers U.S. a Stunning World Cup Exit" read yesterday's NY Times headline; not so stunning if it had been talking about men's soccer, but a serious blow to the phenomenal U.S. women's soccer team, which had beaten Brazil in 21 of 22 prior matches. As a former soccer player and an avid fan of the sport, I'm always disappointed to see how little attention our powerhouse women's soccer team receives in the popular media. Why is it that a national team that had won 51 straight games prior the Brazil loss is, in the words of the soccer federation, "unheard of"? Some academics argue that American exceptionalism is responsible for the unpopularity of soccer as a spectator sport, arguing that the internationalist flavor of soccer contradicted the nativism and nationalism that shaped a uniquely American self image in the late 19th and early 20th century. Unlike the more popular American sports -- baseball, basketball, and football -- the soccer World Cup actually pits American teams against the rest of the world, including, this year, teams from countries as diverse as Argentina, Ghana, Korea, and Norway. While the exceptionalism argument provides a compelling historical explanation, why hasn't soccer taken off as an American spectator sport in the 21st century? The soccer moms are doing their part, chauffeuring girls and boys alike back and forth to soccer games from a tender age. Why hasn't this youthful enthusiasm translated into the soccer fever we see in the rest of the world? Perhaps the less novel but more frustrating question is why so little headway has been made in drumming up spectator support for a sport in which our women's team is truly outstanding. The excellence that Serena and Venus Williams display on the tennis court have engendered substantial enthusiasm from tennis fans, drawing in crowds eager for the sheer excitement of their joga bonito. Despite similar levels of virtuousity, other women's sports simply haven't been able to draw a serious fan base. While the successes of Title IX have empowered talented female athletes, the reality of gender-equal opportunity in sport is still a distant goal. Something to ponder next time you buy tickets for a sporting event . . . .