Other Reviews of Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism
"SCHOLAR EXPLAINS AMERICANS' NONCHALANCE TOWARD SOCCER"
When the German national soccer team left Frankfurt to attend the World Cup, its departure made national news. By contrast, nobody at Kennedy International Airport recognized the U.S. team, says Andrei S. Markovits, a Romanian-born professor of politics at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. The author, with Steven L. Hellerman, of Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism (Princeton University Press, 2001), Mr. Markovits believes the nonchalance of Americans -- even soccer moms -- toward the game as a spectator sport has deep roots.
Q. Is the lack of interest a vestige of soccer's reputation as a foreign sport?
A. It's a vestige of the historical construct of "sports" that arose in the two most advanced industrial societies -- Britain and the U.S. -- between 1860 and 1920. America created its own industrial modernity, which doesn't have a large, mass-based socialist or social democratic labor party, and it created its own sports: baseball, football, and basketball. By the time soccer came here the American masses already had baseball. Soccer became the hegemonic game in the rest of the world by virtue of Britain's economic might -- not, significantly, its political might. Soccer was exported by English electricians, engineers, and textile workers, or imported by, for example, Argentinians who went to England to learn a trade. The countries where Britain was politically strong are cricket and rugby countries, or belated soccer countries like Nigeria.
Q. Will Americans ever really understand the sport?
A. There's no reason in the world why in the year 2050 the U.S. could not be the best soccer country in the world. It's now happening on the supply side, but playing and following are not the same thing. My current research asks whether women's team excellence can change that. Will women waste time the way men do, "schmoozing" soccer?
Q. Americans are not even as passionate about our "own" sports.
A. That's partly because we don't play in an international arena (there's a whole Web-site culture in Germany making fun of the Dutch not going to the World Cup). But it also has to do with another kind of American exceptionalism: Because of college sports, American spectators have from the get-go included women and the middle class. It's very uncommon for European professors to spend any time talking about sports; this is completely out of class. Soccer remains a much more working-class, male, and hence potentially more violent sport.
Q. Have you slept much since the World Cup started?
A. I tape the games, and then I don't go on e-mail until after I've watched them. That's easy to do in June, especially when all of this masquerades as fieldwork.
Please also visit Andy Markovits' official University of Michigan website.
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