Other Reviews of Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism
'Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism'
By NINA C. AYOUB
Why is the "world's game" not America's game, and will that ever change? That was the puzzle for Andrei S. Markovits, a European-born professor of politics in the department of Germanic languages and literatures at the University of Michigan.
Years of interest grew into Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism (Princeton University Press), written with Steven L. Hellerman, a sportswriter and a doctoral candidate at the Claremont Graduate University's School of Politics and Economics.
There are 19 million soccer players in the United States, mostly children and adolescents, and while not exactly irrelevant, the numbers are deceiving. There's a big difference, say the authors, between playing a sport and following it. Soccer has made major inroads as a participatory sport, but that hasn't led to the kind of sports culture that "dominates a country's emotional attachments rather than its calisthenic activities."
For Americans, the "hegemonic sports culture" is the "Big Three and One-Half": baseball, football, basketball, and ice hockey.
Messrs. Markovits and Hellerman take soccer back to the late 1800's, when the game was first "crowded out" by other sports. Soccer, they argue, was perceived as a non-American activity at a time when nativism and nationalism were rampant. Despite the equally British origins of baseball and football, in rounders and rugby respectively, those sports became Americanized and even sometimes denied their origins, a la baseball's Doubleday myth.
They trace a series of missteps in soccer's later history and ask if today's Major League Soccer will expand its fan base. They also cover U.S. interest in the 1994 and '98 World Cups and whether the 1999 World Cup victory by the American women's team will have much impact on soccer's future in the UnitedStates. On the way, men's college soccer receives sharp criticism for such things as the brevity of its schedule and the idiosyncrasy of its rules.
But a repeated theme is more intangible -- the way players in other countries learn the improvisational feel of soccer.
Focusing on boys, the authors say as long as they "do not start playing one-on-one or two-on-two soccer with anything resembling a ball on any surface that masquerades as a playing field, as long as they rely on their soccer moms to drive them to organized soccer practice on well-appointed grassy grounds" supervised by coaches who rely too much on books, then "soccer will not be 'the people's game' in the United States, and thus will never escape the levels of mediocrity on the global scene."
Please also visit Andy Markovits' official University of Michigan website.
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