COLUMN: Soccer, a fad for Americans

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By John Shindlebower

We are a nation of fads. In my childhood, I witnessed senseless trends like disco music, mood rings and bell bottom jeans. In my teens, America endured big hair and big hair bands. I watched otherwise sensible people become enamored with punk rock, Swatches and the mystery of Who Shot J.R.?
In the 90s as my own children were growing, I warned them against silly fads like Pokemon, Beanie Babies and Power Rangers. I don’t think I deprived my children of good childhoods, but I know we saved a lot of money riding out the storm of trendiness. Thanks to my daughter, our household was infested by a particular annoying purple dinosaur for a few years, but we survived.
Since then, other fads have come and gone, and others have lived on longer that I thought they would. Rap music, rap in country - which is near blasphemy, the prevalence of tattoos, $4 cups of coffee, comic book movies and selfies show no sign of loosening their grip on our culture.
While constantly changing, fads will always be part of America. Some are harmless and silly, some leave me scratching my head and questioning our collective sanity. However, to each their own as long as pressure to follow isn’t too over-the-top.
We might be approaching that pressure limit with the push to force all Americans to embrace soccer. The World Cup is without a doubt the biggest single sporting even on the globe. I accept that and I accept that soccer is the most popular sport in just about every nation other than the U.S. Good for them. But for whatever reasons, Americans just haven’t taken to soccer like other sports and we shouldn’t feel embarrassed or inferior because of it.
Now, I’m not a soccer hater. My daughter played soccer from the time she was four until she finished high school. I even coached her for several years at the youth level when strategy was limited to instructing the swarm of short-legged kids which direction to kick the ball.
I readily admit the game requires skill, hard work and tons of endurance. I would probably even suggest that soccer is the best game for young kids starting out in sports. It’s inclusive of all on the team in fun roles unlike youth football, over half the team is not sidelined on the bench like basketball and the game is constantly moving and active, unlike baseball. For those who pursue soccer into high school and beyond, I extend my best wishes and support.
Just don’t complain because the stands aren’t full for your games and opportunities for playing for pay are extremely limited in the United States. I don’t think Americans intend to hate soccer, they just haven’t fallen in love with the game. It’s like that popular girl in school that all the other guys think is amazing. You recognize she has good looks, a great personality, tons of friends and you’d be Mr. Cool if you could be seen with her. But for whatever reason, you’re just not smitten. It’s not her fault. It’s not your fault. It’s just the way it is.
Sure, there are millions of Americans who love soccer. Many more love the game now than they did 30 years ago. Youth soccer programs have grown by leaps and bounds, but in most cases, these same kids who put on the shin guards and cleats at age 8 and 9 turn into adults who tune into Monday Night Football, fill out March Madness brackets in the Spring and spend Memorial Day at a Major League ballpark with their own kids.
Every four years those pushing soccer make their case that soccer will soon take over America. Much like the metric system, it’s yet to happen. Some suggest football and the health risks involved will eventually spell the doom of that sport. That’s simply wishful thinking. Some suggest that baseball is in decline, and they point to low TV ratings. But attendance at Major League Ballparks is double what it was 30 years ago.
Americans like action and especially action that results in lighting up the scoreboard. Soccer simply doesn’t provide that. Scores of 1-0, 2-1 and even more maddening, the dreaded 1-1 tie as participants merely walk off the field without settling the matter, are truly foreign to Americans. “But baseball has low scores,” some may counter. True, but there is potential for a game-changing play with every pitch and teams will sometimes play 20 plus innings until a winner is declared. The last time a baseball game ended in a tie was in a meaningless All-Star game, and it sparked a scandal.
The World Cup has garnered huge television ratings in much of the U.S. However, among television markets, the Louisville area has recorded some of the lowest numbers. Kentuckians love sports with shorts, nets and goals - but the sport they’ve chosen has a wee bit more scoring involved and fewer fake injuries.
I’d suggest that it’s the fad factor driving up much of the attention in the U.S. to soccer this summer. Add to that a healthy dose of patriotism and rooting for the Americans, but there’s nothing to point to a lasting change in what sports we favor. Come August, all talk will be on preseason football camps and by September, fans will fill up stadiums of more than 100,000 on college campuses across the country. In October, postseason baseball will culminate with the Fall Classic known as the World Series. And by the winter, all things World Cup will mostly be forgotten and fans in these parts will skip funerals and weddings to root on the Cats and Cards on the hardwood.
Soccer fans shouldn’t take it too hard. The game remains and will remain the dominant sport across the globe. That should make them happy. Just understand that America has chosen differently. We like touchdowns, three-pointers and homeruns more than bicycle kicks, headers and 1-1 ties. We’ll be trendy for a while this summer, but don’t expect it to last.
If it’s any consolation, somewhere out there exists people who collect mood rings, Village People albums and Swatches. Word is, there’s even a new Power Rangers movie coming out and hair band reunion tours are big draws. If none of those things help, then just throw all caution to the wind and get that soccer ball tattoo and let it be known that what most Americans see as a fad, you see as a lifelong passion.
And between you and me, tattoo removal has come a long way as a growing business. So one day when you decide it really was just a fad, a little laser procedure can have your tattoo gone like a Billy Ray Cyrus mullet.