Friday, June 26, 2009

Craziest Conservative of the Day: Gary Schmitt (for attacking soccer)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

For this post at the American Enterprise Institute's blog attacking "the beautiful game," soccer. It includes this remarkably inane passage:

As someone who didn't play soccer growing up, but had a dad who did and whose own kids played as well, I can say unquestionably that it is the sport in which the team that dominates loses more often than any other major sport I know of. Or, to put it more bluntly, the team that deserves to win doesn't. For some soccer-loving friends, this is perfectly okay. Indeed, they will argue that it's a healthy, conservative reminder of how justice does not always prevail in life.

Well, hooey on that. And, thankfully, Americans are not buying it.

That's right. His case against soccer is that it rewards losers. This is why it's still so unpopular in the U.S., which conservatives like Schmitt think of as some brutally Darwinian playing field, and yet is so popular in Europe and Latin America, where, apparently, losers prevail.

Of course, on one level, this is just yet another example of the right's deluded view of American exceptionalism: Americans are different. They're winners. To make the case that soccer proves this point is just silly, and hardly worth a response.

But let me make a few points anyway:

First, even if you accept Schmitt's point that soccer is for losers, it is simply not the case that soccer is the only popular sport in Europe and Latin America. Track and field is also popular in Europe, much more so, relatively speaking, than in the U.S. Is being able to run faster, jump higher or further, and throw further simply for losers? Furthemore, rugby is highly popular in the U.K. and France, as well as in South Africa and Oceania. Is rugby a sport for the losers who live there? In short, Schmitt's claim that the huge popularity of soccer in other parts of the world allows us to judge those parts of the world, both relative to the U.S. and in absolute terms, just plain stupid. Yes, soccer can help explain the world, as TNR editor Franklin Foer explained in his wonderful book, but not in the way Schmitt imagines. It certainly doesn't explain a world in which it's America versus everyone else.

Second, contrary to Schmitt, soccer is hugely popular in the U.S. The MLS, the professional North American league, is growing, but where it is truly popular is not at the professional level but at the amateur one, especially with youth. Does this mean that America's children are losers?

Third, Schmitt obviously doesn't know soccer. (How can he "unquestioningly" conclude anything without ever having played himself?) It can be a sport that rewards defence -- consider, for example, Italy's success at the international level, in World Cup after World Cup -- but it is simply not the case that the team that dominates usually (or often) loses. What soccer has he been watching? Has he ever seen Brazil play? Or Spain? (Yes, I suppose he saw Spain lose to the U.S. at the Confederations Cup, a stunning victory for an outmatched U.S. squad, but in recent years Spain has been one of the most exciting and, yes, most dominant teams in the world. And is it not possible for a team to dominate with defence, or with a system, as Italy often does? The Steelers won the Super Bowl this year largely because their historically great defence made up for a mediocre offence. They were hardly a dominant team, yet they triumphed. Schmitt wants "excellence" to "prevail," but excellence comes in many forms, and there is certainly excellence in soccer, excellence that prevails, even if Schmitt is too (willfully) ignorant to understand the sport, or to emerge from the depths of his ideological prejudices.

And that is what comes through here: ignorance. There may be some smart conservatives out there -- George Will on baseball, for example -- but with this one atrocious post Gary Schmitt makes himself look like an idiot and the rest of them, who may or may not agree with him, look bad.


For more on this, see Matthew Yglesias, as well as a fine rebuttal from Alex Massie (who makes the case that European sports leagues are actually more Darwinian than American ones).

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share


  • Im not gonna lie i didnt read your entire blog becasue it wasnt worth my time. You're arguement is nonsense. Schmitt dosnt think other countires are losers becasue they enjoy soccer, he is saying that soccer isn't always a sport where the team that should win does. Americans like thinking the odds will line up in favor of the stronger team, but if the stronger team, like brazil in the last world cup, loses what is the point of watching?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:02 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home