Football — the one with the underinflated balls with the pointy ends, not the round ones — is the most popular team sport in America. So why do we always hear about “soccer moms,” but we never hear about “football moms?” At least not in America.
Maybe the mothers in the United Kingdom (and other soccer, er, football-playing countries) who schlep their kids off to soccer practice and dutifully attend their games are called “football moms,” or perhaps more appropriately, “football mums.”
Whatever the case, the definition of soccer moms has now been broadened (sorry) to include a mom who is devoted to her kids’ sports (not necessarily soccer) and other activities, including fundraisers and after-school events. Or as lifestyle blogger Sara Pittman put it, “the stereotypical soccer mom lives up to her name as a woman who always has her shit together … part human, part mythical majestic beast.”
That this moniker was attached to soccer is another story in itself and is related to the 1996 Presidential Election campaign pitting Bill Clinton and Bob Dole. Really.
But why soccer, or as most of the civilized world calls it, football? Don’t Americans hate soccer?
Well, hate is a strong and certainly misplaced word in this context. Americans don’t really hate soccer, they just like football, baseball, basketball and hockey much better. Why else would 13 million Americans play soccer, making it the third most played team sport in the U.S., behind only basketball and baseball?
Football is king in America, both the National Football League variety and college football, which is huge. In fact, in a recent Harris Poll, the NFL and college football ranked #1 and #3 in terms of popularity. The question the poll asked, however, was “If you had to choose, which ONE of these sports would you say is your favorite?”
In that poll, baseball was second, auto racing was fourth, pro basketball fifth, ice hockey sixth and soccer a distant seventh. It’s here where we run into problems — what terms you use to rank sports.
“What is your favorite sport?” is a lot different than “What is your favorite sport to play?” or “What is your favorite sport to watch on TV?” or even “What is your favorite sport to attend?” You’ll get wildly different results depending on how you ask and who you ask. Add the rest of the world, where soccer is the “favorite” sport and you start getting into some contentious debates.
And we won’t even get into the whole sticky debate about what is the “best” sport. That’s just asking for trouble. If you ever wanted to start a bar fight (trust me, you don’t), that’s a topic that’s as good as any outside of “What the hell is wrong with Trump?” — which is guaranteed to have fists and barstools flying.
So let’s just stick to the question of why Americans don’t prefer soccer while the rest of the world does. First, let’s get a myth out of the way. Soccer is popular the world over, but not necessarily in individual countries. For example, in Australia, cricket and rugby are more popular. In India, cricket is the most popular sport. In Japan, baseball rules, while in China, basketball is played by 300 million people. That’s 300 million!
So why is football so popular here and soccer not? One, football has been around a lot longer, since the 1860s. Its professional leagues have also been around longer (the American Professional Football Association was created in 1920 and later became the NFL). It’s considered an all-American sport (even though it was derived from rugby), as Bruce would say, born in the U.S.A. It’s watched by more people (TV and actual attendance) every year, culminating in the grand daddy of them all, the Super Bowl, which was watched by almost 112 million people earlier this year.
And that’s what’s driving football, its ubiquity on TV — there are now games on Monday, Thursday, Sunday and the occasional Saturday — as well as on the NFL Network. All that money drives interest up even more and makes celebrities and TV pitchmen out of its best players. Fantasy leagues, betting sites like DraftKings and FanDuel (which generate billions) and even your friendly office pool, jacks up interest even more, even to casual fans.
But what really makes sports fans pick football over soccer is two good old American favorites: violence and action. Football is action-packed, with a lot of spectacular, athletic plays and tons of scoring. In soccer, a 1-0 score after 90 minutes of running around is considered a thriller.
And football is violent, no question. The bigger the hit, the louder the fans cheer. The more a team can impose its physical will on another team, the better the chances of winning. Battles are fought in “the trenches” between the behemoth offensive and defensive linemen.
Soccer, on the other hand, is considered by many American sports fans as slow and boring, a lot of men running around in shorts and flopping and writhing on the ground at the slightest contact. Most of their time seems to be spent keeping the ball away from the other guys.
“Watching soccer is like watching grass grow … with soccer players in the way,” quips comedian Stephen Colbert.
So don’t expect Americans to suddenly spend their weekends watching the Premier League or the New York Red Bulls duke it out with the Chicago Fire. Oh sure, when the Men’s World Cup rolls around again in 2018, we’ll be glued to our TVs, but only if the American men make a run at it and not falter in the early rounds.
You see, that’s the other thing American sports fans need are winners, and we haven’t won much worldwide when it comes to soccer. Except for the American women. They are indeed Wonder Women and the best we have when it comes to soccer. But they don’t play football.
All books are available at amazon.com. Click on title for more information.
On the Origins of Sports: The Early History and Original Rules of Everybody’s Favorite Games
by Gary Belsky and Neil Fine
Football For Dummies
by Howie Long and John Czarnecki
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