Is soccer catching on in mainstream America? It's an endlessly recurring question. And when The New Republic's Howard Wolfson raised it again Sunday it reminded the Wire of an essay in Chuck Klosterman's 2004 book Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs. Klosterman, in his muscular diatribe against the sport, reminds culture critics that saying "soccer is the sport of the future" has become old hat. Below, a short portion of the book that you should read in full:
I've spent the last fifteen years of my life railing against the game of soccer, an exercise that has been lauded as "the sport of the future" since 1977. Thankfully, that dystopia has never come. But people continue to tell me that soccer will soon become part of the fabric of this country, and that soccer will eventually be as popular as football, basketball, karate, pinball, smoking, glue sniffing, menstruation, animal cruelty, photocopying, and everything else that fuels the eroticized, hyperkinetic zeitgeist of Americana. After the U.S. placed eighth in the 2002 World Cup tournament, team forward Clint Mathis said, "If we can turn one more person who wasn't a soccer fan into a soccer fan, we've accomplished something." Apparently, that's all that matters to these idiots. They won't be satisfied until we're all systematically brainwashed into thinking soccer is cool and that placing eighth (and losing to Poland!) is somehow noble. However, I know this will never happen. Not really. Dumb bunnies like Clint Mathis will be wrong forever, and that might be the only thing saving us from ourselves...
Soccer unconsciously rewards the outcast, which is why so many adults are fooled into thinking their kids love it. The truth is that most children don't love soccer; they simply hate the alternatives more. For 60 percent of the adolescents in any fourth-grade classroom, sports are a humiliation waiting to happen. These are the kids who play baseball and strike out four times a game. These are the kids afraid to get fouled in basketball, because it only means they're now required to shoot two free throws, which equates to two air balls. Basketball games actually stop to annihilate them.
That is why soccer seems like such a respite from all that mortification; it's the one aerobic activity where nothingness is expected. Even at the highest levels, every soccer match seems to end 1-0 or 2-1. A normal eleven-year-old can play an entire season without placing toe to sphere and nobody would even notice, assuming he or she does a proper job of running about and avoiding major collisions.
Soccer fanatics love to tell you that soccer is the most popular game on earth and that it's played by 500 million people every day, as if that somehow proves its value. Actually, the opposite is true. Why should I care that every single citizen of Chile and Iran and Gibraltar thoughtlessly adores "football"? Do the people making this argument also assume Coca-Cola is ambrosia? Real sports aren't for everyone. And don't accuse me of being the Ugly American for degrading soccer. That has nothing to do with it. It's not xenophobic to hate soccer; it's socially reprehensible to support it. To say you love soccer is to say you believe in enforced equality more than you believe in the value of competition and the capacity of the human spirit. It should surprise no one that Benito Mussolini loved being photographed with Italian soccer stars during the 1930s; they were undoubtedly kindred spirits. I would sooner have my kid deal crystal meth than play soccer. Every time I pull up behind a Ford Aerostar with a "#1 Soccer Mom" bumper sticker, I feel like I'm marching in the wake of the Khmer Rouge.
That said, I don't feel my thoughts on soccer are radical. If push came to shove, I would be more than willing to compromise: It's not necessary to wholly outlaw soccer as a living entity. I concede that it has a right to exist. All I ask is that I never have to see it on television, that it's never played in public (or supported with public funding), and that nobody -- and I mean nobody -- ever utters the phrase "Soccer is the sport of the future" for the next forty thousand years.