Dissecting American Soccer's Hatred of the Flop Is a World Cup Tradition

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Another World Cup has begun and that means another opportunity to explain away America's global soccer failures on our stubborn obsession with fairness and sportsmanship. 

Experts agree that American soccer players are particularly bad at one essential skill of the sport: flopping. On the cusp of the U.S. team's opening match against Ghana, The New York Times reminded us why the U.S. just doesn't flop very well, or much at all. The practice of the flop is a tried-and-true method of manipulating each game's referee to make calls go your way by aggressively exaggerating fouls or the appearance of fouls. The benefit — as Brazil's Fred showed on the opening day of the World Cup (image above) — can be as decisive as an occasional undeserved penalty kick.

However, American-born players rarely flop and aren't great at selling their falls. The prevailing theory why that is? Flopping is dishonest and... un-American:

That idea [of flopping], though, runs contrary to the ethos of idealized American sports. As [World Cup assistant Tab] Ramos said, American athletes are typically honest on the field, no doubt influenced by years of being told to be strong, battle through contact and finish the play. The tendency of American soccer players to eschew diving, [ex-player Kyle] Martino said, is directly related to the fact that diving is one of the things that soccer critics in the United States rail against so passionately.

To the major practitioners of the flop — Europeans and South Americans — flopping is part of the game. In the States, however, it's often cited as one of the key aspects of soccer that keeps it from wider American acceptance. In basketball or hockey, for instance, the worst thing you can be accused of is taking a dive just to get a call.

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This is not a new argument, of course. For years, sports journalists have pointed out the American pride in not flailing, wielding it as both an excuse for American stumbles on the world stage and a moral victory to cling to when when they inevitably lose.

In 2012, Sports Illustrated called flopping a "horrible affront to machismo" and citing it as the reason soccer hasn't caught on in America. "After all, what better captures the 'grass fairy' stereotype than a grown man flailing to the ground, untouched, as if Mike Tyson had just sucker punched him?"

Back in 2010, the Times itself mocked those flopping players. That article described how Ivory Coast's Abdul Kader Keïta fell "as if he had been doused with pepper spray," and Germany's Mesut Ozil went to the ground "as if gnomes hiding in the grass at Durban Stadium had tied his shoelaces together." Not the best praise for their attempts.

And here's CBS.Sports.com's crotchety Gregg Doyel in 2010, writing about his love for the American team: "For the sake of this story, I care about the honor of our soccer team. I care about our ethics. About our sense of fair play. I care that we don't flop like fish." Not goals or wins or points, but fair play.

Dave Eggers took the anti-diving mantle in a 2006 piece in Slate: "Flopping is essentially a combination of acting, lying, begging, and cheating, and these four behaviors make for an unappealing mix," he writes. He was convinced that flopping was, "by far," the biggest detriment to the appeal of the game to Americans.

And let's not forget the inimitable Skip Bayless, the king of all sports "hot takes," talking on Jim Rome's radio show in 2006 about the stupidity of soccer's flopping. So for any of you out there whining about how un-American and awful the soccer flop is, just know you're arguing on the same side as Skip Bayless. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.