Thursday, July 16, 2009

On Soccer

The closest professional sports arena to my house is only a few miles away. It’s an easy drive, even if there’s traffic. The stadium itself is state of the art, world class, brand new, and all those other buzzwords marketing people use to describe sports arenas that are supposed to be destinations in and of themselves. The most important thing about the stadium to me, though, is this: I’ll probably never in my life go there to watch a game. Why? Because it’s Toyota Park, home of the Chicago Fire Major League Soccer team. And I don’t think I could care less about soccer if I tried. In this I am like pretty much every other American. Soccer apologists like to tell us that things are going to change. Apparently every single American kid plays club soccer and those soccer playing kindergarteners are inevitably going to grow up to be rabid soccer fans and help the sport everyone else in the world calls football overtake the sport Americans call football in popularity. Every time the American national teams manage to get ever so close to toppling some international powerhouse in competition, then ends up losing the game but winning the moral victories of “not sucking,” and “getting everyone’s attention,” and “serving notice to the world that America has arrived,” we’re told to expect soccer to take over next time. In truth, those kids who played club soccer usually, like me, grow up to not give a shit about soccer. Sure, I used to jokingly tell everyone that the reason I don’t like the sport is because of the way I was ill-treated by a certain attractive member of my high school’s girls’ varsity team,* but that’s not true. I didn’t give a shit about the sport long before that. And, like most Americans, my main memories of soccer involve Brandy Chastain running around without a shirt on and Mia Hamm marrying Nomar Garciaparra. But the only reason I remember Brandy Chastain is because people keep reminding me that I’m supposed to remember it. And Mia Hamm married Nomar back when he was still a shortstop. For the BoSox. Since then I’ve been blissfully unaware of soccer except during the occasional assaults on my sensibilities right before the American team loses to Brazil or the Czech Republic or Trinidad & Tobago in the semi-finals of some alphabet soup world competition that probably isn’t the World Cup. Knowing this, soccer apologists then trot out the superstars. David Beckham got signed to the LA Galaxy in what probably seemed to someone like a can’t-miss publicity stunt. The biggest star of the sport in one of America’s biggest sports markets. Hell, he’s even married to a Spice Girl. Who wouldn’t want to be there for that? After the first game, which I’m pretty sure was sold out, The answer was, “Everyone.” Beckham went off to play for Real Madrid or A.C. Milan or Manchester United or some other such team that I don’t care about. These days the guy named Beckham who’s most likely to make it to SportsCenter is budding White Sox star Gordon Beckham. Too bad. So sad. But not really. Honestly, all the predictions of soccer’s eventual dominance are starting to seem more than a little pathetic and desperate. There’s really only one group in America that seems even more pathetic and desperate in they’re claims they’re on the verge of taking the nation for their ideology. Evangelical Christians. No. Seriously. I can’t tell you how many times I heard that we were on the verge of “revival” and that “god is moving” and that such and such event was proof. Yet Christianity isn’t any more popular than it was ten or twenty years ago. And, in fact, it’s less popular. There isn’t even an iconic moment like Brandy Chastain running around in a sports bra. Now that I think about it, evangelical Christianity could totally use a moment like that. I know that if some of the girls I went to church with had run around without shirts I might have decided to stick around a bit longer… Either way, in Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs Chuck Klosterman tried to destroy the myth of soccer transcendent. He says this: “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 who are afraid to get fouled in basketball, because it only means they are now required to shoot two free throws.” His basic theory, with which I tend to agree, is that for kids with no apparent athletic the entire sport of soccer allows a respite, since they can basically run around for an hour or two, look like they’re participating, and never actually have to do anything. So the kids with actual coordination and ability to score a basket or hit a tiny ball with a round stick go on to do that while the kids with no coordination or noticeable skills just wait until they don’t have to do any of that sports shit any more. He even picks a specific time frame. “However, the demand for such an oasis disappears once an outcast escapes from the imposed slavery of youth athletics; by the time they reach ninth grade, it’s perfectly acceptable to just quit the team and shop at Hot Topic. Most youth soccer players end up joining the debate team before they turn fifteen.” Again, I’m prone to agree with Klosterman on this one. Except I’ll add my own corollary, since I’m pretty sure he doesn’t understand, or wasn’t willing to articulate, one other little factoid. The same age when kids are quitting club soccer wholesale is also approximately the same age kids are starting to get heavily involved in church activities. I don’t think this is a completely random correlation, either. The thing about church is that you don’t have to be able to kick a ball really hard to make it there, either. You simply have to be really good at appearing religious. This isn’t all that hard to do. Just figure out a few of the buzzwords, make sure you bow your head at the appropriate time, and in no time at all someone will be saying, “Wow, you are going to grow up to be quite the man/woman of god.” Moreover, church gives even the dorkiest of human beings the chance to interact on a more-or-less equal level with the cool and attractive kids. See, the entire social hierarchy is inverted at a church youth group. In general, at least in my experience, the kids that are massively popular in the high school didn’t bother to go to church unless their parents made them. They were already gods or goddesses in the limited worlds of their high schools and probably weren’t smart enough to realize that after eighteen nobody would give a shit about how popular they were in high school. This isn’t an attack against the popular kids in high school. It’s simply a statement of fact. High schoolers in general are far too short-sighted to realize that it will all end eventually. And there’s nothing more pathetic than a high schooler who realizes at 21 or 22 that they’ll never recapture the glory days but then tries to do so, anyway. Either way, back to the topic at hand… The outcasts head to church at about the same time they quit soccer. This is neither a mark against soccer nor a mark for church. It’s simply an observation that the kids who aren’t good enough to make the varsity basketball team still look for a place to shine and the church is always an option. See, they have to be nice to you at church. I think it’s in the universal church bylaws. So those outcasts start to feel a lot less outcast-y. The attractive members of the opposite gender even talk to them. And even if the attractive girls in youth group still won’t let the outcasts get a hand up their shirts, that’s nothing to worry about. The assumption that nobody is going to get any is built in to the Christian schema, after all. So the pathetic outcast who isn’t getting to second base can console himself with the fact that nobody else is getting to second base, either. The fact of the matter is that some those girls who are trying to be all “pure” and “virginal” and “saving themselves for marriage” are probably bending over and lifting their skirts for the captain of the football time just like any of the other girls. But that’s because high school kids are horny, but also picky. Only the attractive, popular kids get laid if an attractive, popular kid is involved in the process. The sad sack outcasts who think that being able to pray really, really well makes them acceptable and even, quite possibly, cool, just don’t get that, though. So they sit and imagine the day that god will open up the eyes of the really cute girl who occasionally smiles at them on youth group night and she will be theirs. She won’t. She’ll pick the dimpled captain of the football team just like the other hot girls. She’ll probably have sex with him, since it's what teenagers do no matter what they're told the Bible says. She’ll get pregnant, just like all the other hot girls who go to schools where abstinence-only sex ed doesn’t solve any problems and just means that girls are more likely to get pregnant because they don’t have a fucking clue what a condom really is. And the poor, deluded outcast will comfort himself with the idea that one of these days god is going to reward him. A few years after high school, however, things will change. See, they used to love to tell us that we were on the front lines of evangelism. The majority of people who accept Jesus do so before they turn 18 and, apparently, develop critical thinking skills. So it’s obviously imperative to get as many people as possible to pledge their love for Jesus above anything else and prove it by wearing a stupid ring. The opposing statistics, at which I’m just guessing at because they sure as hell wouldn’t have brought these up, probably show an inordinate percentage of people in their twenties who no longer go to church because they’ve decided, and for good reason, that they don't need to go to church any more. In the adult world there aren't any parents making anybody get up on Sunday morning. And, unlike junior high and high school, people can pick and choose their own peer group far more easily. Either way, nobody gives a shit about soccer after they get out of junior high. Not really.** And most people don’t give a shit about church after they graduate from college. Sure, they might go back when they have kids of their own, but that’s more of a glitch than a feature. The fact is that once you graduate from high school very few people care whether or not you’re cool. Once you graduate from college most people only care if you’re competent or not. Sure, there are probably going to be cliques at any given office, but no one is going to get tripped or have their laptop knocked out of their hands while they’re on their way to a meeting.*** Unless there’s someone whose job is to be cool, like a rock star, movie star, or one of those idiots who are famous for the sake of being famous, most people can get away with just doing what they have to do. It’s like church, but with a paycheck. And that’s why it’s way more fun to grow the fuck up. It's also why you don't really need to go to church once that's happened. Or play soccer, for that matter.**** ------------------------ *Ironically enough I actually found myself in the same room as said individual for the first time since high school this evening, just a couple hours after I wrote that paragraph. I don’t actually give a shit, I didn’t talk to her, and I don’t feel like it. It’s amazing how you can never fully leave high school behind no matter how far you are from it, though… **Nobody in America. People overseas who love futbol, well, um, good job. ***At least, I’d hope not. That would be a shitty, shitty office. ****There are plenty of people who actually love the sport of soccer/futbol in much the same way I love baseball. To them I say, "More power to you." Also, "Why?" EDIT: Absolute proof I was far less sober than I thought when I wrote this one:
The opposing statistics, at which I’m just guessing because they sure as hell wouldn’t have brought these up, probably show an inordinate percentage of people in their twenties who no longer go to church because they’ve decided, apropos of nothing, that the blanket is staging something for the German people and that the Big Reveal really isn’t that big an idea.
I wrote that less than seven hours ago. I do not know what it means. At all. Also, my use of the term "slut" in the part about how nobody notices that they're not getting laid at church did kind of derail the tone of the post. I was going for intentionally inflammatory. That just kind of took everything over to what I call "asshole for the sake of being an asshole." Mea culpa. There are, in fact, several problems with the sex paragraphs. In general when I write about people not getting the fact that other people are having sex I'm mocking myself and the fact that I totally missed the probability that all that stuff was happening in high school (and still miss it now, probably, but that's a story for another day) when it was probably completely obvious to everyone else. However, I directed that mockery in the complete wrong direction. Again, mea culpa.


Fiat Lex said...

Gee, bitter much?

Seriously, while I agree with you about the soccer/Christianity thing, you come down awful hard on teenage girls who put out. My suspicion is that this rises from your perception of your past self, for whom your present self may or may not possess a stern dislike and a peremptory "sad sack" label.

Yes, abstinence-only sex education is a major factor in teenage girls getting pregnant. (America's looking at you, Bristol Palin.) Maybe that's because not all girls who get abstinence only sex education had my option of sticking with girls until college and thereafter being very, very careful until weed and/or chemo took the problem out of my hands.

The point is, you don't get to call 'em sluts just because they didn't put out for you. And if that's not the point you were going for I apologize for mischaracterizing you. It does kind of come off that way, though. And despite extant counterexamples, it's taking the high road to presume that dumb popular chicks are people too.

As for one of the other actual points you were making--yes, it's incredibly disturbing how American Christianity seems to be a haven for the underachieving. Sprinkle in the right catchphrases about being a "living testimony" and "not hiding your light under a bushel", and the otherwise socially inept feel like we--er, I mean, they, "we" being past tense for us ex-Xtians--have carte blanche to insult and demean outsiders while praising insiders according to bizarre clique-specific formulae. Precisely like the regular popular kids who are so easy to deride.

Geds said...

Um...I didn't bother to read your comment past the second sentence.

Because did you ever stop to think, "Maybe Geds is being intentionally inflammatory here?" I mean, I spent six hundred words being as insulting as possible to soccer, a sport about which I literally never think.

This is the trouble I get in by always trying to take a neutral path. Everybody assumes I'm being completely serious when I write anything on my blog.

And, no, I don't think of them as sluts "because they didn't put out." First, that's a fundamentally stupid thought process. Second, um, I never asked them to and never would have thought to. Remember, I bought in to the whole thing.

Seriously, you know me. Don't take me so fucking seriously.

jessa said...

As for your remark about how youth pastors always emphasized that people who did not become Christianized by 18 were unlikely to be Christianized at all and that maybe this is because that is when they develop critical thinking skills: I was literally thinking pretty much the same thing on my way home from work last night. But then, I also work in a library, and I see a lot of people who, as full grown adults, do not have critical thinking skills. (I see this lack of critical thinking skills among mental health care professionals, too.) I wonder if part of it is also the impulse, when we are younger, to latch on to absolutist dogmas to explain the confusing confusing world, but that adults don't really care to understand? That would allow for the same thing to happen to everyone regardless of their ability for critical thinking.

It also seems, for reasons that are unknown to me, that in high school and college a lot of people get heavily involved in clubs and things, but afterward, they aren't so much anymore. Maybe it is because they have created their own projects that they work on independently of groups like that (and it is easier to have someone to tell you what to do)? I think that is a significant part of it for me, I would like to be involved in some organizations but I simply don't have the time because I have my own projects to work on. Perhaps it is because in school those clubs and things are right there and they don't have to put forth the effort to find them. But it does seem like a lot of adults are a lot more apathetic and uninvolved than they were in school, despite the stereotypes about teenagers. I think there is something to your soccer/church theory, but I still feel like there is something about the general population that I still don't understand that is contributing to this.

ExPatMatt said...

As a football fan, I should respectfully disagree with your opinion on the game.

However, having watched Toronto FC play several times last year I can confirm that the game played on this side of the pond is not, in fact, football, but is actually soccer - there is a difference and it's enough of a difference to make me agree that yes, soccer is shite.

Although the fact that hotdog eating garnered more viewers that MLS should be cause for concern for you guys...

I stopped reading when you started comparing it to Christianity though; I just couldn't take it any more!


big a said...


in re: your "adults don't seem as involved in clubs and whatnot as high school and college students" thing, I have to highlight a couple reasons you missed that might show adults to be less apathetic than you think.

1. In school, most folks run on more or less the same schedule. Most people take classes during the day and have evenings off. Weekends aswell. In the real world, people work all kinds of crazy hours and have commitments to family, boy/girlfriends, what have you that they usually don't have during their educational years. It makes getting people together a specific time much more difficult.

2. Especially in going from college, you just have a hell of a lot less DENSITY in the real world. I am a pen & paper roleplayer (Dungeons & Dragons, World of Darkness, Rifts, etc.) and have spent the last 2 years, off and on, trying to organize a steady game with no success. I simply can't gather enough players in a small enough area to make a regular game feasible.

Geds said...


One thing I've heard/noticed/been aware of, too, is that adolescents tend to be far more black and white in their thinking than adults. By the time (the editorial) you get older you might not develop critical thinking skills, since the brain needs work just like a muscle, but you've had a lot more experiences and met a lot more people. So you're more likely to at least be willing to hear other people out.

That's why I think evangelical types isolate themselves intentionally. A lot of the ideas shrivel up when exposed to sunlight, so they have to stay in their own dark place.


When I came up with the idea for post I thought, "I'm going to piss off every evangelical and soccer fan who reads it. Hooray!" Glad to see I succeeded.

In truth, though, I don't really have anything against soccer. It's kind of like hockey to me. I know there are people who like it but I just can't get involved.

The fact is, and you're perfectly welcome to not believe me, but I tried to make it obvious that this was my point, I have no problem with soccer. I also think that the people who have been convinced for the last twenty years that it's going to take off in America and keep telling me so in spite of all evidence to the contrary are pathetic. It was less inflammatory, since the target audience was smaller, but the truly apt comparison isn't between soccer and Evangelical Christianity. It's between the, "Soccer's gonna be huge!" crowd and the people who did all the math and said, "Jesus is coming back on November 14, 1985," and the world stubbornly still refuses to not exist two and a half decades later.

And, again, you're free to not believe me, I used "soccer" intentionally to refer to American football, not because I'm an idiot American who doesn't know better. I'm sure my love of baseball is as confusing to the rest of the world (at least the parts that aren't Japan or Latin America) as their love of football is to me. And I'm okay with that, especially since the Saw Doctors have given me an irrational love for the green and red of Mayo and the maroon and white of Galway.

I've never watch those teams play soccer, but I'm in their corner nonetheless...

Fiat Lex said...

Ah, good! I'm sorry I took you a bit too seriously. On second read it is pretty clear that you just being grumpy and tongue-in-cheek. This incident perhaps illustrates one of the dangers of the blogosphere: a drunken, sleepless commenter recklessly spouting off about things spouted off recklessly by a drunken, sleepless poster.

Thanks for adding the "mea culpa" thing at the end, though. (And that meaningless paragraph is truly hilarious. Sometime perhaps you could use it in a story for a character who is drunk and/or high and tries to write something in a state of delirium, thinking it profound?) Thing is, you write many things on this blog which are serious, in one way or another, and your natural writing voice has an intelligent and authoritative tone. So even though you were going for "intentionally inflammatory", it wasn't obviously comic enough for it to be easy for me to sort the sarcasm (towards individual humans) from the honest snark (towards institutions and the idea they promote). And I know that back in the day you wouldn't have tried any funny business, having bought into the whole no-sex-before-marriage thing. There, I was being unnecessarily snarky. I apologize.

Ah, poor Matt, to see your beloved game compared to a religion whose followers can be so very, very exasperating! You have my sympathy. [teasing] Also, ha ha. You are a futbol fan. You have my sympathy. [/teasing] I'm sure it's a lovely sport, I'm glad seeing it played well can give you joy, and on your behalf I hope your chosen team, whoever they may be, wipes the field with other teams whenever they play. For myself, my indifference knows no bounds.

big a, I agree with your response to jessa's point about why people tend to get less religiously active after college. Time management is every bit as large a factor as enhanced critical thinking skills. Most of the time, religion is a lot more about social bonding and building a community of the like-minded than it is about inward personal development. So it makes sense that people wouldn't do as much of it when they don't have a homogeneous peer group to support them.

And Geds, I love the comparison between "Soccer will be huge, you'll see!!!1!" and "Were all gonna get raptured next Tuesday, you'll see!!!1!" Would be laugh-out-loud funny if it didn't make me want to hunt down Dr. Van Impe, along with scores of unnamed pastors and bloggers throughout the land, shake them by the lapels, and scream at them. Makes me glad we have PersonalFailure around, in all her profanity-laden glory, to scream at them so I don't have to.

As for evangelical isolationism, noooo, that can't possibly be why they do it! I mean, I'm sure all those homeschooled-through-high-school kids choose to attend Bible College of West Bufuville, work exclusively in charities sponsored by their favorite denomination, and have no friends whom they didn't meet through church functions because they're so totally committed to keeping themselves on the path to righteousness! Not because they react to opposing viewpoints with fear and trembling, or have not had the inclination or opportunity to develop social skills beyond the repetition of their church clique's favorite buzzwords! That's patently absurd!

Geds said...


I think that paragraph is going to make it in to my C.V. one of these days...

Either way, yeah, I read your comment, thought, "What the fuck? Doesn't she get it?" then went back and realized, "Oh, this is totally off track."

Because my goal was to mock three groups: evangelicals, soccer apologists, and people like me who are naive enough to buy in. My goal was not to mock girls who have sex in high school. I wish I'd known more of them...

I suppose it's actually instructive, though. I went back to the paragraph in question and thought, "What word can I use here that works better than slut?" The only word that I could come up with that was appropriate was, "girl." So I asked why and I realized it was because I had no intention of mocking the girls who want to get laid and calling them sluts most definitely does that. So the obvious thing to do is clean up the language and allow the main rant to get back on the rails.


There we go. Got that back to where it was supposed to be.

PersonalFailure said...

Not touching soccer with a 10' pole, but I will say this: I wish I could tell every depressed, struggling, about to give up teenager this simple truth- high school has nothing to do with life. Life after high school is exactly what you make of it.

People who say that high school was the best years of their lives are truly pathetic people.

Geds said...


Totally. I was talking to my friend's cousin a few days ago. He's either just finished his freshman year or just about to start it. I said, "Don't listen to all those people who tell you these are the best years of your life. If that's the case then that means your life sucks."

Of course, I also said, "Women are the Devil." So, y'know, my advice might not necessarily be completely worthwhile.

Actually, I'm seriously considering doing a follow-up post that's not intended to be inflammatory about church youth group as an alternate culture for outcasts...

sinned34 said...

Big hockey fan here (I'm a goalie in a local beer league), and hockey has had it's share of "We're gonna be huge in the USA!" posturing. Thankfully, much like the up-and-coming Evangelical Revival, it hasn't happened yet. Too much popularity ruins a good thing - look at the music industry!

That said, the only way I've been able to enjoy soccer/futball was to go to England, join the rowdy locals watching the game at the pub, and pound back a number of bitters. They love introducing a North American to their game, and, much like baseball, the only way the game is even moderately interesting is when you're half-corked.

Anyway, I find it interesting that your youth group was the complete opposite of mine. We had the "popular" crowd that was actually fairly popular in school. Not the "elite" popular kids, but they definitely didn't hang around with the "church outcasts" while at school. I should know, I inadvertently became one of the lead outcasts.

It's getting late, so I won't bore you with my anti-conversion tale tonight. Maybe another time.

Until then, I will completely agree: high school fucking sucked. If high school truly was the best time of your life, you are a pathetic adult! The only good part about it was that a day felt a lot longer than it does now.