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Tracinski Lays an Egg

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By Gus Van Horn from Gus Van Horn,cross-posted by MetaBlog

(Or: "What Mr. Wakeland doesn't know about soccer, Mr. Tracinski doesn't know, either.")

Robert Tracinski of TIA Daily, whose work I generally admire, would doubtless be ejected from the below soccer match (HT: Martin Lindeskog) for the enthusiastic recommendation he recently gave in his newsletter for the latest example of a phenomenon that crops up reliably in America every four years, around the time of the World Cup: The Anti-Soccer Editorial by Someone Who Has No Appreciation for the Game.

Although this is the "best" example I have ever seen of one of these, it is just one of many. Its appearance is about as predictable as the "Annual Spring Taliban Offensive" (with obligatory liberal hand-wringing in the MSM) Tracinski himself is so fond of pointing out in his newsletter. And its perspicacity is on about the same par as the pacifistic hand-wringing Tracinski debunks.

I'll quote his endorsement in full here.

I am not a serious sports fan. Instead, I'm the type who ignores the regular season and tunes in only for the championship game, or only to see a player I particularly like (such as Michael Jordan). But I'm pretty ecumenical in my tastes: I'll watch football, basketball, tennis -- and every two years, I enjoy seeing some of the many obscure sports that get television coverage only during the Olympics.

But I can't stand soccer. Jack Wakeland and I have been complaining privately for many years that soccer is, in Jack's words, "a game designed for double amputees." We have speculated that soccer is the perfect product of a socialist society, which commands man not to use his most effective organs of survival -- in the economy, he cannot use his own judgment; in sports, he cannot use his hands.

I was delighted to see all of those points echoed in this article from the website of the Weekly Standard, along with another very important observation: soccer deprives its spectators of the essential spiritual experience that rewards the viewer's interest in sports -- the experience of scoring. In the realm of sports, scoring is success -- and soccer is diabolically arranged to deprive its viewers of the sight of success.

Well, at least Tracinski starts out by admitting the obvious: that he is not a serious sports fan. And he does also admit to hating soccer. You can't fault a man for not knowing much about sports, for his tastes, or for being up-front about the same.

But you can call his speculation that soccer is a "perfect product of socialism" what it is: baloney. Is the marathon a "race designed for double amputees" because one does not use his hands? Is figure skating, for which I seem to recall that Tracinski has a special fondness, also for double amputees? I didn't think so. Oh, and while we're on the subject, would someone please tell me how one "scores" in figure skating? What was that? Oh! They're awarded by a panel of judges from countries whose residents regard America in Iraq as worse than Iran having nukes? Talk about a "diabolical way of depriving us viewers of the sight of success"....

No. I don't mean to trash figure skating for having to be judged, but in doing so, I am making the point that someone who knows little to nothing about soccer sounds about as ridiculous damning it for not having a goal every five seconds as I would for complaining about something -- like judging controversies -- that are simply an inevitable result of the rules of international figure skating competitions.

On the subject of scoring in sports (when such scoring isn't subject to judicial fiat), one could make a similarly facile argument condemning basketball for the opposite sin as soccer: having "too much" scoring. After all, it is not uncommon for basketball players to traverse the court numerous times in the process of scoring over a hundred points -- one, two, or three at a time -- to win a game, when all a soccer team usually has to do is score perhaps a handful of points to win.

Basketball, such an "analysis" would hold, is wracked with inflation, robbing its players of the value of the successes they have already produced by making them have to score "too many times" to win a game. No wonder it's popular with blacks, who bloc-vote for Democrats (and their inflationary policies), and becoming more so in socialist Europe, particularly in nations (like Greece and Italy) which historically had high inflation and unstable currencies before the Euro!

And the spiritual experience for the fans, of seeing points scored, is cheapened by the fact that it occurs so often. By Jove, one might as well watch footage of a printing press reeling off fiat currency! Basketball may allow players to use their hands all they want -- just like men in inflationary economies are free to use their minds -- but it retroactively robs them of the value of their past efforts!

Of course, this analysis is complete baloney. Just as Tracinski's remarks about soccer are, as well as the numerous idiotic points made by the article he praises. I'll close by considering just a few of the more ridiculous ones. I follow each with my comments in italics.

The historic game with Italy ended in an epic 1-1 tie. But in what was ballad as one of the greatest games ever played by an American team, the United States failed to score. The goal credited to the Americans was scored by an opposing player who--oops!--accidentally kicked the ball into his own goal.

Think about this about this for a moment. It just about sums up everything you need to know about soccer, or football, as it is known elsewhere.

Have Messrs. Frank Cannon and Richard Lesser never heard of the "safety" in American football? Or of quarterback passes being intercepted and returned for touchdowns? Or of a miscue making the difference in an ice skating competition? Accidents happen in sports and winning games (or competitions) will necessarily sometimes entail overcoming (or profiting from) such events.

Most soccer matches end in scoreless ties (or nil, nil in soccer parlance), 1-1 deadlocks or 1-0 victories. A final score of 2-1 is regarded as a veritable outburst of offense, an avalanche of goal scoring that leaves exhausted fans shaking their heads and pining for the old days when teams knew how to play strong defense. A score of 2-0 is said to be a crushing victory (or defeat) of Carthaginian proportions rendering national shame and humiliation and potentially resulting
in coup d'etat
, or even war.

Um. No. Many matches do end in draws. Many can be decided by a point or two. Two points is usually -- depending on how play went during the match -- regarded as a decisive victory. Three almost always is. At the international level, a loss of four or more is about as embarrassing as a twenty point defeat at the professional level would be in a basketball championship. Damn inflation!

As for the wars, that obviously hasn't a bloody thing to do with soccer as a game. But hey! When you don't like something, use whatever it takes to fool yourself into mistaking your ignorance and personal taste for virtue.

The game consists of 22 men running up and down a grassy field for 90 minutes with little happening as fans scream wildly.

Until the year Rice won the College World Series and I had the opportunity to watch several very good baseball games narrated by a very talented commentator, I had zero appreciation for all the strategy that goes into that game. I used to see (before switching channels): nine men standing around on a field, scratching themselves and spitting while some guy with a beer belly swung a stick at a ball.

I am still not a huge baseball fan, but I will never again be so dismissive of the sport just because I don't always appreciate what is going on strategically.

It is the same with soccer, which I have played and refereed. Not to knock the various sports I will contrast (sometimes a little heavy-handedly) with soccer here, but....

Unlike American football, with its many set plays, soccer features a jazz-like fluidity. A truly great player will develop a rapport with his teammates and create spectacular plays on the fly. If you don't care for improvisation, stay away.

Unlike in basketball, goals consist of much more than some seven-footer slapping a ball through a hoop at will. A goal is more often than not a hard-earned result of a team's patiently building up an attack, combined with on-the-fly teamwork. Sometimes, the player who scores does so after almost acrobatic efforts to strike the ball. If you haven't the patience to follow an offensive buildup or wait for the opportunity to see a spectacular individual althelticism, someone else could use your barstool.

Unlike most American sports, with their unlimited substitutions and interminable time-outs, the clock runs constantly in soccer. You must, quite literally, think on your feet most of the game. Furthermore, all but the goalkeepers and at most six other players must be well-conditioned enough to run almost constantly for two forty-five minute halves. There are no beer bellies in soccer. If fitness annoys you, switch channels.

... Scoring goals is of such little importance...

This is (usually) bass-ackwards. See my remarks above concerning basketball. In tournament play, this is sometimes correct due to how wins and draws are tallied during round-robin play. If long-range planning doesn't wax your lance, find something that does.

But soccer players use their heads, deliberately, to contact the ball. This is contrary to all human instinct, which is to keep the head out of the way of danger. Duck, you idiot! Protecting the head against injury is deeply rooted in our nature. It's an evolutionary survival response. Sacrifice a limb if you must, give up an arm or leg, but protect your head at all costs. Yet in soccer the player is encouraged, no, expected to hit the ball with his head. This is as stupid an action as a human being can undertake.

One protects himself from injuring his head by learning the proper way to strike the ball with his head. Physical contact is illegal.

And I'd still take a surprise hit on my unprotected head with a soccer ball over an errant (or deliberate) 90-plus MPH baseball in the head while wearing a plastic helmet (sans faceguard) any day. Or participate in a football game where some 300 pound behemoth can decide on any play to "risk" the loss of a few yards by grabbing the face-mask of my "protective" helmet and yanking me to the ground.

If you find that heading a soccer ball is a confusing concept, but that beanballs and face-mask penalties make perfect sense, I cannot help you. Seek a professional.

This article is utterly ridiculous to anyone with any familiarity at all with soccer, and its endorsement by Robert Tracinski, someone I hold in high regard, is particularly disappointing.

-- CAV

(My thanks to an anonymous commenter for suggesting this post.)


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I can hardly resist replying. In truth, I don't want to resist. So:

I played soccer growing up (in Mexico). I've been to many pro soccer matches, including some in the 86 World Cup. I've seen soccer on TV, too.

I find it as exciting as baseball. Which tellls you exactly nothing. I find baseball as exciting as watching paint dry, which tells you a lot. In other words: I despise soccer and baseball (I don't despise drying paint, as long as I don't have to watch it).

Soccer sometimes seems to lack an objective. I mean, it might be to score, but that happens so rarely it cannot be why thousands of people attend a match and millions more watch on TV. It could be to come close to scoring (a quick thrill of suspense, I grant you), but the number of times either team comes close to a score do not affect the outcome of a match. It could be the hystrionic displays by the players in front of the referees (who's to say the man in black shorts is not a judge of artistic merit? besides to whatever else he does on the field, that is); but while it can result in awarding penalty kicks, free kicks, indirect kicks, and/or the issuance of red or yellow cards, this roving amateur acting show does not determine the outcome of the game either.

Of course, that's sarcasm. I know perfectly well the objective is to score, as is the case in most other team sports and many individual sports. The low scoring, however, goes a long way towards making the game boring to me.

Another contributing factor are the hystrionic displays. I'm serious. How many times have you seen two players going for the ball and player A barely brushes against player B's left flank? Then player B falls down, grabs his right flank, and assumes an expression of anguish that would win Tom Cruise an Oscar? Often the referee buys it, too.

There may be no timeouts, but these flagrant displays serve almost as well.

Speaking of time, in most other sports with a clock, you always know where the clock stands and how much time is left. Not so in soccer. The referee adds up time lost to injuries, the acting contests I've so derided, ball retrievals (I've been told) and I suppose other things, and decides how much longer than 45 minutes the half will go on. I misslike this. It's not a transparent process. There whould be a game clock the referee can stop when he deems necessary or when the rules say so, like football.

Speaking of referee's, there needs to be at least another one. Three men cannot cover that big a field. Many times the referee will miss a call because he saw the play from the wrong angle. But that's merely procedural.

Ties, now, are fine in pro leagues during regular season games. After all, they play a lot of games. But during what is supposed to be a gathering of the world's best players for a very short calendar of games, ties are unsatisfying. And penalty shootouts are anticlimactic. soccer, whatever my opinion of it, is a gme of constant motion. A penalty shot barely involves motion.

About the other points:

1) In football the offense can score against itself only if it looses the ball and it goes out of bounda via the offense's end zone, or if an offensive player carries the ball out of bounds through his end zone. A player tackled with the ball in his end zone is a safety, yes, but one scored by the defense.

2) A thrown football, or a kicked or dropped one, is a free ball. Therefore an interception, or a fumble for that matter, returned for a touchdown, means, again, a score for the defense.

3) There is too much scoring in basketball. So much that is almost meaningless. But I really don't follow basketball enough to comment on it. I don't think I've ever sat through one full game, or even half of one.

4) Hands and arms are a very imoprtant part of figure skating, especially in pairs skating and ice dancing. Try to ballance yourself with your arms held firmly at your sides. A double amputee who could win a medal, or even give a good performance, at Olympic level, even in singles, would earn my undying admiration for all eternity.

What I really dislike about soccer is the attitude by its supporters that something is wrong with people who don't like soccer (hell, some even think there's something wrong with people who call it soccer). along with the implication that there's something wrong about America for not making soccer her national pastime (I never hear anything derogatory about India or Pakistan liking cricket better than soccer, though). A dislike for soccer, or a liking for it, is completely amoral in itself.

As for names, it comes down to languages. American English is a variant of Brittish English as much as Australian or Canadian English are. In American English common usage, the name for the sport is soccer. In Spanish, what the NFL plays is called American Football, not simply Football. Again, different languages. I've heard Europeans call it "American Rules Football" and "NFL Football," the latter even when referrign to college games.

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I would agree that watching soccer isn't a very exciting pastime, and the hysterics that hold most fans in its grip are just shameful. I have played soccer for quite a while and I must say that it's a very fun sport to be participating in, especially if you're an active player and run around a lot trying to catch the ball and make new offensive actions and all that :)

I actually don't watch sports in general much, I would much rather play them myself than sit there on the couch or in the stadium cheering at other people. I think it's mainly a little silly to get so worked up over whether you like the sport or not. It might be interesting to see what people think the important aspects are a sport should be judged on; I'd like to see if it is possible to determine which one is objectively better :)

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It might be interesting to see what people think the important aspects are a sport should be judged on; I'd like to see if it is possible to determine which one is objectively better :)

Better by what standard? :)

Individuals are different from each other in many aspects, not the least of which are likes and dislikes. For the most aprt, these are not morally significant. Is it better to like bannanas than to like apples?

If you set a standard for a sport, then you can judge, objectively, which pro leagues, teams, national teams, players, coaches, etc are better or best. But how would you go about dtermining that Football is better than Soccer?

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That was my point, I think it would be interesting to see if such standards can be found... You would have to basically make a list of things that are important for all sports, and then judge them all based on how well they meet these requirements, basically.

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