Americans should back a real ‘world’ champion
I spent a recent weekend like most (as my wife likes to point out), watching an array of professional sports on the tube. With a dose of NBA basketball over my morning pancakes, a few innings of Major League Baseball for lunch and an NHL hockey game in the evening, my appetite for sports is well served. Yes, the other one is too (another thing my wife along with the bathroom scale will point out).
However, there is one thing that is missing. No, not dessert, I eat plenty of Ben and Jerry’s watching the hockey game. The missing ingredient in my sports diet is soccer.
I love this game! (oh no, the NBA is really getting to me).
Aside from individual-based competitions like golf’s Ryder Cup and tennis’ Davis Cup, U.S. national soccer and the World Cup is the only professional team sport and competition that is truly played for a world title. So why don’t more American sports fans get behind our National team?
I mean come on, the World Series? The NBA World Championships? When’s the last time the Yankees or Lakers played a team from another country for either of those titles?
Well my friends, I’ll tell you why soccer gets no love here in the states. It boils down to two simple things.
First, we as Americans are accustomed to being instantly gratified. In our Internet world, a click of a button or flip of a switch is all it takes to get our news, do a little shopping, or balance our checkbooks. This instant gratification has transcended into sports viewing.
We love football because every play hinges on making or stopping that first down. With baseball it’s the timely hit or strikeout we wait for every inning. And basketball, well it’s pretty obvious slam dunks and 3-point shots satisfy us just about every possession.
Soccer is a different ball game. It’s more of a slow developing excitement. Teams do a lot of strategic passing, moving the ball around the field in hopes of finding that one moment where they can break through the defense and blast a shot past the keeper for a 1-0 win. Unfortunately, most American sports fans don’t have the patience to truly appreciate what a beautiful and strategic game soccer is. Instead, they need their quick touchdown or home run fix.
Second, they call them “official time-outs” in sports like football, basketball, and hockey, but why not call them what they really are, “advertising time-outs.”
Advertising fuels professional sports on television. The popularity of the big four American sports has been greatly enhanced by seeing our favorite stars drinking a Miller Lite or eating a bowl of Wheaties. Without major endorsements, a sport is less attractive to us.
Soccer will always struggle with this. I can’t think of one major company out there that wouldn’t take issue with the fact that soccer does not have “official time-outs.” The play is continuous, running 45 minutes a half with no commercial breaks.
Also, without the backing of a major advertiser, soccer will never have a Michael Jordan, Deion Sanders, or Wayne Gretzky and thus will always be played in the shadows of the big four.
Don’t get me wrong, I love watching Barry Bonds rope homers into McCovey Cove, Jerry Rice catching touchdowns and Mario Lemieux top-shelfing a goal. I just wish more people would give soccer a chance. As patriotic as most of us our about our country, it surprises me that no one cares we are ranked 18th out of 203 countries that compete for a spot in the World Cup. Maybe if MJ plans a comeback in this sport rather than basketball, people would pay attention.
– Gary Kank is the Tribune Editorial Assistant. Tribune Sports Editor Steve Yingling’s column will return next week.
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